A National Juneteeth Museum is opening in Fort Worth, Texas, on the site of an existing institution that commemorates the historic day.
“For decades, Juneteenth has been part of the fabric of our city, and this museum is a welcome addition to its incredible legacy,” Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement.
Juneteenth celebrates the anniversary of the arrival of Union troops in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, informing enslaved African Americans of their emancipation, which had become law on January 1, 1863.
The current Juneteenth Museum was founded and run by 95-year-old Opal Lee, who advocated for the date to become a national holiday. Lee launched a campaign in 2016 in which she walked two-and-a-half miles each day, from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., a distance symbolizing the two and a half years it took for news of the end of slavery to reach those enslaved men and women in Texas awaiting their freedom.
In 2020, as support for a nationwide Juneteenth holiday swelled, Lee launched a Change.org petition that collected more than 1.5 million signatures, which she presented to Congress that September. Lee was in the room on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden finally declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, signing into law a bill recognizing the day.
“To have lived long enough to see my walking and talking make an impact is one thing, but to know that a state-of-the-art museum that will house the actual pen that President Biden used to sign the bill, and many other exhibits, is coming to pass as well—I could do my holy dance again,” Lee said.
Known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” Lee has been operating her museum in the city’s historic Southside neighborhood for nearly 20 years. The new museum, a project from Fort Worth public affairs and marketing firm the Sable Group, will be part of a mixed-use development, reports the Associated Press.
“The museum will not be an expansion of the Juneteenth Museum that exists now as the current facility is limited in scale and has a Fort Worth-centric motif. Instead, it will be a new development with a national designation,” a Sable spokesperson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “The new museum will be the world’s premier Juneteenth exhibit space and tourist destination.”
Sable plans to enlist activists, researchers, and historians to create educational programming about the legacy slavery, and how African Americans have overcome oppression.
“It’s just going to be a wonderful exhibit of freedom all across the country and the world,” the new museum’s director, Dione Sims, told a local CBS affiliate. “The exhibits that we’re going to build will be interactive, not just stuff that folks look at, but they can feel and touch and be a part of because our goal is to help people find themselves in the Juneteenth story.”
Construction is expected to start next spring, with Bennett Partners serving at the architect. The Sable Group aims to raise $25 million to $30 million from corporate and individual donors and government partners for the project, which is slated to open in 2024.
“I’m ecstatic,” Lee told the local NBC affiliate. “This new museum is going to be the talk of the town. Not just the town, the whole cotton picking state. You wait and see.”
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