opal shines bright

National Juneteenth Museum a dream come true for 95-year-old Texas trailblazer

Juneteenth Museum a dream come true for 95-year-old Texas trailblazer

Opal Lee, Juneteenth
Opal Lee interacts with President Joe Biden after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021.  Getty Images

The 95-year-old woman known as "the grandmother of Juneteenth" has earned another lifetime achievement: Opal Lee's hometown of Fort Worth will be home to the National Juneteenth Museum, the city announced.

The museum will be part of a mixed-use development that will help revitalize the Historic Southside neighborhood, according to a release. It will be built on the land that currently houses Lee’s Fort Worth Juneteenth Museum, which has served the community for nearly two decades, including as a filming location for the 2020 movie Miss Juneteenth.

Lee was by President Joe Biden's side at the White House when he signed a law declaring Juneteenth a holiday on June 17, 2021. The Juneteenth National Independence Day, which commemorates freedom for the enslaved via the abolition of slavery in the United States, became the 12th legal federal holiday — the first new one since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into law in 1983.

A recognition of Juneteenth is something Lee — known affectionately around town as "Ms. Opal" — has dedicated much of her later life to. In 2016, a then-89-year-old launched Opal’s Walk 2 DC, a two-an-a-half-mile walk that symbolized the two-and-a-half years it took for slaves in Texas to learn they were free. She gathered 1.5 million signatures on a petition to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Lee, who sits on the board of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, also has been leading the charge toward a National Juneteenth Museum.

“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 says in the release.

Fort Worth-based public affairs firm Sable Brands says construction on the museum is expected to start in early 2022, with completion projected about a year later. The museum will be led by "a collaboration of activists, researchers, historians and everyday people who understand the influence of history on the trajectory of the human experience," they say.

A spokesman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram the museum is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million with funding through “various sources, including individual and corporate donors and government partners."

The National Juneteenth Museum will be designed to educate visitors on the "legacy and experiences of the enslaved and provide factual narratives about people who overcame the trials and hardships of oppression," the release says. "As the epicenter for the preservation of Juneteenth history and a center for discussions about freedom, the new museum will host events and exhibits that foster continued conversation on the global significance of freedom and the celebration of Juneteenth worldwide."

It also will host lectures and programs by renowned authorities on historical perspectives of freedom, they say.

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker says she is excited to add the museum to the city's list of world-class museums.

“For decades, Juneteenth has been part of the fabric of our city," she says, "and this museum is a welcome addition to its incredible legacy.”