Opal Lee has long been known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, leading the charge to have a national museum built to honor the day.
The land in Texas where Lee has developed the Fort Worth Juneteenth Museum will now become the site for the national monument.
President Joe Biden signed legislation in June to make Juneteenth a national holiday, with Lee by his side. The pen he used to make June 19 a holiday will be part of the display.
“To have lived long enough to see my walking and talking make an impact is one thing,” Lee said in a statement. “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.”
Building The New Museum
Construction will begin in the spring of 2022, with an opening sometime in late 2023. Officials said the new facility will not be replacing Lee’s museum, which has operated for about 20 years in the city’s Southside neighborhood.
“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,” a spokesperson for marketing firm Sable Brands told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Instead, it will be a new development with a national designation. The new museum will be the world’s premier Juneteenth exhibit space and tourist destination.”
The museum will be part of a mixed-use development for the area. In addition to artifacts and telling the history of Juneteenth, the museum will also host seminars and lectures about freedom and other important issues.
“Exploration of the richness of the American tapestry and global canvas is the ultimate goal of the museum’s directors,” the release said.
Local officials are excited about the museum coming to town.
“For decades, Juneteenth has been part of the fabric of our city, and this museum is a welcome addition to its incredible legacy,” Mayor Mattie Parker said.
The museum is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million, with funding coming from a variety of sources including individual donors, corporate sponsors, and government partners, the Sable Brands spokesperson said.
Juneteenth Becomes A Holiday
Juneteenth commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States following the Civil War.
Lee, 95, has pushed for years to elevate its status, and in 2016 she began Opal’s Walk 2 DC, a 2.5-mile walk meant to represent the 2 and a half years it took for slaves in Texas to learn that they had been freed.
With Lee and Vice President Kamala Harris by his side, Biden signed the legislation this summer creating the national holiday.
“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and the promise of a greater morning to come,” Biden said at the ceremony.
It was particularly significant for Harris, the first African-American to serve as vice president.
“We are gathered here in a house built by enslaved people,” Harris said at the White House. “We are footsteps away from where President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. We have come far, and we have far to go.”
“But today is a day of celebration,” she continued. “It is not only a day of pride. It’s also a day for us to reaffirm and rededicate ourselves to action.”