An evening fire destroyed a one-story house in Fort Worth that had previously housed the very first Juneteenth Museum for nearly two decades.
The museum used to be run by Nobel Peace Prize nominee Opal Lee, who has been dubbed the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.”
“I hate that it burned down,” Lee told WFFA. “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.”
Firefighters arrived at a reported structure fire in the 1100 block of Evans Avenue at around 1:15 a.m. on Wednesday, according to the Fort Worth Fire Department (FWFD).
The wooden building was already engulfed in flames by the time fire crews arrived. The wind was also causing two nearby structures to catch fire. According to fire officials, it took close to an hour to completely put out the fires in the three locations after firefighters cleared the buildings.
No one was seriously hurt during the ordeal, but one person had to be treated on the scene for smoke inhalation. The cause of the fire is being investigated, per FWFD.
The new National Juneteenth Museum is scheduled to open in the summer of 2025 and will be situated near Evans Avenue and Rosedale Street, WFFA reported.
The Fort Worth City Council is pledging up to $15 million of taxpayer money toward the new museum, The Dallas Express previously reported.
“[Lee] walked for miles and miles, literally and figuratively, to bring attention to Juneteenth,” President Joe Biden said in June when he declared Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Slaves in the South were not free for another two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. The holiday Juneteenth — June 19 — commemorates the day when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to the last of those still enslaved in the United States, who happened to be in Galveston, Texas.
General Gordon Granger and 7,000 “colored troops” from the northeast, according to Lee, brought the announcement to the port town.
“He read General Order No.3, that said all slaves are free. When those people came in from their labor, and somebody read that to them, we started celebrating,” Lee said. “Juneteenth is not a Texas thing; it’s not a black thing; we’re talking about freedom for everyone.”
In a written statement, National Juneteenth Museum Board Chairman Gleniece Robinson thanked the FWFD for their efforts in fighting the fire.
“Yesterday, the legacy Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth caught fire. We appreciate the incredible efforts by the Fort Worth Fire Department to contain and extinguish the fire safely and are incredibly moved by, and grateful for, the community’s outpouring of concern.”
Robinson noted that the fire would not deter efforts “to establish and erect a world-class National Juneteenth Museum.”