Dr. John Barnett Jr. believes society is at a crossroads on race relations — and it has chosen the worse path. But the pediatric dentist sees this as an opportunity to bring more education and culture to his home city, Fort Worth.
“That’s where our society is — it’s the worst of times as far as racial relations, but it’s the best of times as far as opportunity,” Barnett said, referencing Charles Dickens’ famous line from the book “A Tale of Two Cities.”
One such opportunity is the Fort Worth African American Museum and Cultural Center, a project that is in the planning stages. Organizers, including Barnett, currently are engaging in workshops and discussions with the community.
The vision for this museum is to preserve African American heritage and culture in Fort Worth. Assistant city manager Fernando Costa said the idea of developing a museum of Fort Worth African American history and culture has been around for a long time, but it never gained much traction until about two years ago – when this project was born.
This museum is one of several upcoming projects relating to African American history and culture in Fort Worth. The National Juneteenth Museum recently launched and is scheduled to open in summer of 2024 in Fort Worth. There’s also a push to transform a former Ku Klux Klan meeting hall on Main Street into a museum and community arts center named in honor of Fred Rouse, a Black man who was lynched by a mob of white people in 1921.
The projects are not connected or in competition, Barnett said. Although separate from the Juneteenth and Fred Rouse projects, the African American museum could include aspects of those historical events.
The Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society is located in Fort Worth, and the city also has the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum, formerly known as the National Cowboys of Color Museum and Hall of Fame. But these sites do not fully commemorate and celebrate African American history and culture in Fort Worth, Barnett said.
Costa said the African American museum would positively impact the community because African American people have made great contributions to the city and civic life, but those contributions have not been well recognized historically.
“It makes sense to promote greater awareness about the many ways in which African Americans have contributed to the vitality that Fort Worth enjoys today,” Costa said. “You could say that the idea’s time has come, and you could even argue that it’s long overdue.”
Andy Taft, Downtown Fort Worth Inc. president, said this museum will help mitigate the loss of African American history and culture. The museum will focus on African American history relating to Fort Worth but could also include aspects of national history.
Barnett and Taft both serve as co-chairs of the organizing, or steering, committee. The committee is made up of 21 members who have connections to local museums, art, history and culture. The group is not formally constituted yet, so they operate on a pro bono basis, Costa said.
In November, the committee held a week-long workshop with a panel of five museum and cultural experts, moderated by Jason Shelton, director of the Center for African American Studies at UT-Arlington. During the workshop, the steering committee interviewed about 100 stakeholders from the community and determined five potential sites for the museum, Barnett said.
In the next six to eight weeks, the Urban Land Institute will survey the proposed site areas and evaluate criteria such as economic impact and accessibility. Their report will be due to the committee in mid-March, Barnett said, and then the committee will narrow the choices to one site.
Once the Urban Land Institute panel makes a recommendation on preferred site locations, the steering committee will seek public involvement in selecting a preferred site, Costa said.
After that, the committee will conduct a feasibility study using the selected site. At that point, the committee may be able to project a budget for the project, Costa said. Once the project is determined economically feasible, then the committee will be able to register as a nonprofit organization that can accept monetary contributions from the community.
The museum does not have a projected opening date or a groundbreaking date yet, Taft said. For now, the committee is simply focused on finding a site and building community interest and buy-in.
“We are going slow, and we are taking every suggestion that comes in from stakeholders and we consider suggestions that come in from community members at large,” Barnett said. “We want this to be a project of the people by the people for the people — not some idea of a small group who said this would be nice.”
Steering committee members
- Dr. John Barnett, pediatric dentist
- Andy Taft, Downtown Fort Worth Inc. president
- Mary-Margaret Lemons, president of Fort Worth Housing Solutions
- Ramon Guajardo, Ramel Co. president
- Scott Wilcox, Amon Carter Museum of American Art chief financial officer
- Kippen De Alba Chu, chief of staff at Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
- Ruth Ann Rugg, director of special projects at Texas Association of Museums
- Matthew Snellgrove, Legends vice president
- Brenda Sanders-Wise, executive director of the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society
- Sarah Walker, president of the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society
- Frank Moss, former Fort Worth City Council member
- Jim Austin, executive committee president of the National Multicultural Western Heritage Museum
- Opal Lee, activist and “grandmother of Juneteenth”
- Jimmy Walker, Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society
- Randle Harwood, retired director of development services
- Cynthia Lee, president of the Stepping Into Destiny Artists Guild
- Stacy Marshall, president of Southeast Fort Worth, Inc.
- Deborah Peoples, former candidate for Fort Worth mayor
- Jennifer Giddings Brooks, Tarrant County educator
- Reginald Gates, chairman of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce
- Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth
Fort Worth Report fellow Cecilia Lenzen may be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter.
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