A Celebration of Freedom

Tuesday, June 18, 2024 - 10:57
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Jarred Howard ('95), the National Juneteenth Museum's CEO
Jarred Howard ('95), the National Juneteenth Museum's CEO

Juneteenth's legacy is one of joy and festivity, which Jarred Howard hopes to capture in the forthcoming national museum.

DENTON (UNT), Texas — More Americans know about Juneteenth than ever — 90%, according to a new survey. Of those, about two-thirds understand what the holiday represents. Jarred Howard (’95) aims to improve this when the National Juneteenth Museum opens in 2026.

Howard, the museum's CEO, said that while other institutions tend to view history more somberly, this one will celebrate everything Juneteenth stands for. 

“We are literally celebrating freedom, which is the bedrock of our country,” he said. “The spirit, the energy, the engagement will all have a celebratory bent. It won’t just be a museum; it will have many ways to celebrate the significance of Juneteenth and the freedom that Juneteenth brought for those formerly enslaved people in Texas.”

The 50,000-square-foot space will sit on the corner of Rosedale Street and Evans Avenue in Fort Worth’s Historic Southside neighborhood. For the last four decades, the location has been home to a smaller Juneteenth Museum, courtesy of Ms. Opal Lee (’63 M.Ed.). Known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” Lee led efforts to have Juneteenth designated a national holiday, which finally happened in 2021.

It has been her life’s mission to raise awareness of June 19, the date in 1865 on which enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom — a full 2.5 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Now 97 years old, Lee’s vision has been realized in more ways than one. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2024 for her tireless advocacy. But her work still isn’t finished.

A digital rendition of the museum's planned gallery space
A digital mockup of the museum's planned gallery space. Credit: Bjarke Ingles Group, KAI Enterprises and AtChain

Lee continues to have an immeasurable impact on those who know her, particularly Howard. He grew up in Fort Worth and has known Lee all his life. When Lee heard of Howard’s vision to establish a National Juneteenth Museum, she offered the land on which her small museum sits. As the saying goes, “On the shoulders of giants.”

“You don’t lead an effort like this without including Ms. Opal,” Howard said. “She really is at the core of everything that we’re doing.”

A celebration of Juneteenth has been nearly a decade in the making. Howard began this journey with a much smaller footprint in mind. But given Juneteenth's growing popularity and awareness, those plans have been scaled significantly. When the museum opens, it will be an economic activity center with a food hall, business incubator, theater, community space, and other resources.

The neighborhood itself drove part of the expansion. The Historic Southside of Fort Worth lacks many social determinants of health and wealth. As a result, Howard said the area has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

“When you consider those factors, you recognize the mandate is much bigger than just a museum where people come and look at exhibitions,” he said. “You know there are greater needs. And so, when you do a catalytic project like a National Juneteenth Museum, you want to leverage the opportunity to do much more than that.”

The museum has multiple ties to UNT, in addition to Howard and Lee. Its Executive Strategist, Dr. Lauren Cross, is a former assistant professor at the College of Visual Arts and Design. Board member Deah Berry-Mitchell is a doctoral student in history and a Graduate Teaching Fellow.

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Howard and his team are still gathering artifacts to exhibit. In July, they will host a History Harvest in partnership with UNT at the Fort Worth Ella Shamblee Library, where people can bring in items that can help tell the Juneteenth story. More details can be found on the National Juneteenth Museum’s Facebook Page.

To learn more about the National Juneteenth Museum, visit nationaljuneteenthmuseum.org and follow @juneteenthmsm on Instagram and X.

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