Watch CBS News

Revitalized National Juneteenth Museum to highlight meaning of the holiday: "It's a story about freedom"

Juneteenth museum honors day "about freedom"
Revitalized National Juneteenth Museum to highlight the holiday: "It's a story about freedom" 04:54

Tucked inside Fort Worth's historic Southside neighborhood, once a vibrant mecca of Black culture, is the city's Juneteenth Museum. For the past two decades, the museum has told the story of slavery and emancipation, and celebrated the accomplishments of African Americans throughout Texas — but now, the site is about to make room for a bigger project.

Dione Sims is leading the charge to create a new National Juneteenth Museum, building on the land and aspirations of her grandmother: 95-year-old Opal Lee, who championed making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

"This is the current museum. It has seen better days, for sure," Sims recently told CBS News' Nicole Killion as they toured the aging facility. 

Lee also sat down with Killion to discuss the importance of building a new Juneteenth museum — which will be built on the same land after the current one is demolished.

"Museums, cultural things… are needed in any society. And I just sort of think this one will be rare," she said.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, were told of their freedom — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

While it has long been celebrated in the African American community, Sims says the museum will be a learning experience for all.

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

"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 said. "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 new centerpiece of the museum will be a permanent exhibit focused on the "Twelve Freedoms" gained after slavery. Those include the freedom to serve in the military and to buy property "instead of being property," Sims said. 

"We consider them basic human rights today. But for the previously enslaved, those were new concepts," she said.

It will also feature a recording studio that will provide visitors with an interactive experience, in which they will learn about and preserve their history.

The new museum will be part of a mixed-use development, said Jarred Howard, an adviser on the project. 

"The museum is by all means the anchor of the development," he said. "But there will be a food hall. We'll have a 251-seat theater, [an] exhibit space. We'll have a business incubator. And then it'll be capped off with some residential units."

Howard and Sims, who both grew up in the community, have started raising money through grants and donations for the $70 million structure. They hope to break ground this year, with the goal of opening on Juneteenth 2024.

"It's very ambitious. I will tell you that. With a whole lot of prayer," Howard said.

There is also a whole lot of push from Opal Lee, who once thought she wouldn't see Juneteenth made a national holiday in her lifetime, Sims said. But Lee, who led a campaign to make Juneteenth a holiday and delivered 1.5 million signatures to Congress last year, was right next to President Biden when he signed legislation to make it a federal holiday. 

"That happened," Sims said. "So we're working really hard to make the National Juneteenth Museum come to pass in her lifetime so that we don't have that regret."

This story was produced by the CBS News Race and Culture Unit.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.