Arts & Culture

Galveston Is the Birthplace of Juneteenth, but Fort Worth Aims to Be the Capital

Though the country’s first Juneteenth Museum has yet to open, it’s already shaping a new hub of Black history

Photo: Bjarke Ingles Group and KAI Enterprises

A rendering of the National Juneteenth Museum in Forth Worth, Texas.

On June 19, 1865, more than two years after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a Union general dropped anchor on the shores of Galveston, Texas, and announced that all enslaved people were free. Since then, Juneteenth and the city of Galveston have become important symbols of celebration and of work yet to be done. Yet we owe the existence of the federal holiday to Opal Lee, a ninety-six-year-old activist who walked more than 1,400 miles to Washington, D.C., from her home in Fort Worth, Texas. This year, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” will continue to help Fort Worth carve its place as the nation’s Juneteenth capital, a claim bolstered by the forthcoming National Juneteenth Museum, a 50,000-square-foot cultural center for historical preservation, education, and connection. The sprawling complex will house a theater for lectures and performances, a business incubator to support emerging businesses, a food hall highlighting local chefs and vendors, and a public plaza and green space.

The museum won’t open until 2025, but in the meantime the organization is launching its Uniting Voices speaker series, kicking off a series of vibrant Juneteenth events around town:

National Juneteenth Museum Speaker Series

Thursday, June 15

Fort Worth’s I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and Visual and Performing Arts welcomes the renowned activist Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative for a discussion moderated by Emmy Award–winning author Leah Frazier. Stevenson’s memoir, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, adapted into a searing biographical drama starring Micheal B. Jordan, details his life-saving work as a civil rights defense attorney. 

Opal’s Walk for Freedom

Monday, June 19

Opal Lee walked through twenty-one states before President Joe Biden signed the bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Now, virtually or locally, you can walk 2.5 miles with Opal Lee in recognition of the years it took for the news of freedom to reach Texas. In Fort Worth, the walk will conclude across from the future site of the National Juneteenth Museum, and $6.19 of each ticket will be donated to the museum.

Juneteenth Parade of Freedom

Saturday, June 17

Juneteenth parades will take place all across the country this weekend, and Fort Worth is no exception. The event, hosted by Soul of Sycamore, concludes at the Sycamore Park entrance of the Juneteenth Music and Arts Festival, featuring local vendors, art exhibitions, a car show, and plenty of food and drink.

The Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo

Saturday, June 17

The longest-running Black rodeo in the country bounds into Fort Worth for the holiday weekend. Credited with inventing bull-dogging, Bill Pickett was the first Black rodeo athlete to be inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1971. His legacy continues through this traveling rodeo, which celebrates the tradition of Black cowboys and cowgirls through bull riding, barrel racing, and more.

3rd Annual Juneteenth Commem-ART-ration 

Saturday, June 17

A celebration of painting, spoken word, and Afrobeat dancing at Fort Worth’s Como Community Center also includes the crowning of Miss Juneteenth.

Fort Worth Botanic Garden: Juneteenth at the Garden

Monday, June 19

The city’s beloved horticulture haven will offer free admission in honor of Juneteenth. Its twenty-three specialty gardens include a tropical conservatory, rose and Japanese gardens, a forest boardwalk, and a water conservation garden.

Plus: Support Fort Worth’s Black-owned restaurants

Smoke-A-Holics BBQ serves “Tex-Soul,” a fusion of soul food and barbecue courtesy of owner Derrick Walker, while live music and platters of Cajun shrimp and sausage are on order at Krab Kingz Seafood. The celebrated Loft 22 serves gorgeous cakes in flavors like orange sherbert and pink animal cracker. Stormie Monday’s, a family-owned soul food grill, dishes up classics like chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes with house-made gravy.

… and visit local art museums

Now through July 9, Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum of American Art will display Emancipation: The Unfinished Project of Liberation, an exhibit exploring what freedom looks like for contemporary Black Americans through sculpture, photography, and paper and textile fabrications. The National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum offers exhibits like the one dedicated to Bass Reeves, a legendary lawmaker and deputy marshal born into slavery. Join the museum in person or virtually with the National Juneteenth Virtual Heritage Festival.