Original Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, destroyed by fire

Remembered Embers

Original Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, destroyed by fire

(Courtesy Fort Worth Fire Department)

Yesterday a fire at the site of the original Juneteenth Museum destroyed the institution started by activist, educator, and 2022 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Opal Lee. The Museum commemorates the holiday, which celebrates the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaching Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, nearly two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the edict.

Lee, dubbed the “grandmother of Juneteenth” opened the small museum nearly 20 years ago in a residential building situated at the corner of Rosedale Street and Evans Avenue in Fort Worth. The site was also the filming location used in the 2019 film Miss Juneteenth.

Lee, aged 96, has dedicated her life and career to Juneteenth. In addition to managing the museum, she tirelessly campaigned for the date’s observance as a federal holiday, which came to fruition in 2021.

This past June the small-but-mighty museum announced its plan to reestablish its operations in a much larger National Juneteenth Museum, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group and local firm KAI Enterprises, that will be located on the same site.

The National Juneteenth Museum, scheduled to open in 2025, will be constructed using timber and will feature a pleated roof. Exhibition space will be centered around a courtyard. At the center of this patio a five-point star will be engraved in gold symbolizing the State of Texas, the last Confederate state to free enslaved people, as well as the freedom of African Americans in the United States today.

Lee’s granddaughter, Dione Sims, will serve as the new museum’s founding executive director. In addition to sharing local stories related to emancipation and slavery, the new museum will take on national purview, sharing histories related to abolition, the southern Underground Railroad to Mexico, and more and will also house a business incubator for Black entrepreneurs, a food hall with culturally Black cuisine, and a performance venue. Its construction is part of a larger mixed-use development to revitalize the neighborhood, an area that has been scarred by economic decline following the divisive construction of I-35W in the 1960s.

As for yesterday’s blaze, the Forth Worth fire department shared on its Twitter that all of the artifacts in the original museum had been removed in preparation for their move to the new museum.

In an interview yesterday with local ABC news affiliate WFAA, Lee said: “I hate that it burned down. Young people would listen to those of us who were so much older and we could tell them about what we went through in our day and how the times were changing. But I’m delighted we got everything out that we’ll be using in the new museum.”

The two adjacent structures also caught fire. Crews were able to extinguish the blaze after about an hour and confirmed that one person was treated for smoke inhalation.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.