Opal Lee's Family Shares Plans for National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth

"It's a story about freedom."

Opal Lee
Photo: Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images

The legacy of Opal Lee continues to flourish in Fort Worth.

New designs for the city's National Juneteenth Museum were unveiled Wednesday. The "purposefully designed" building, which will be erected on the site of the aging Juneteenth Museum, will serve as epicenter for the education, preservation, and celebration of the holiday.

Lee's granddaughter, Dione Sims, is spearheading the effort on behalf of her 95-year-old grandmother, who spent decades working to have Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday.

"Our vision and our mission is to help the nation and the world find themselves in the Juneteenth story," Sims told CBS News.

"So, you've got Quakers who risked their families, their position to help folks escape to the North. You had abolitionists—William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass—that worked together," she continued. "There were a multitude of ethnicities that wanted to help free the enslaved… So, we're trying to let everybody see that Juneteenth isn't just an African American story. It's a story about freedom."

The centerpiece of the new museum will be a permanent exhibit about the "Twelve Freedoms" gained after slavery, including the freedom to serve in the military and to buy property. The museum will also host exhibits, discussions, and events highlighting the long journey to emancipation.

Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced to the country's last remaining enslaved African Americans that the Civil War had ended. Lee's determination to have that date recognized on the highest level finally paid off last year when President Joe Biden signed a bill to recognize June 19th as a federal holiday.

The new-and-improved museum is a fitting next step.

"Seeing the national museum moving forward is a dream fulfilled," Lee told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "I've had a little Juneteenth Museum in that very spot for almost 20 years, and to see it become a central place for discussion, collaboration, and learning seems to be the providential next step—from my walking campaign to Washington, D.C., the petition, and having Juneteenth declared a federal holiday. It's mind-boggling, but I'm glad to see it all come to pass."

Construction on the 50,000-square-foot building is set to begin in 2023, with a target opening date of June 19, 2025.

For more information visit nationaljuneteenthmuseum.org.

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