Juneteenth, or June 19, commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, as the Civil War was ending, a Union general issued orders for the final enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. The day was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021 when President Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law. It was the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was adopted in 1983.  


Fort Worth’s own Dr. Opal Lee, affectionately known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” campaigned for decades to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Her symbolic walk from Fort Worth to Washington, DC in 2016, at the age of 89, garnered national attention and encouraged the creation of the federal holiday. She stood next to President Biden when he signed the bill into law. Dr. Lee is the founding board member of the National Juneteenth Museum and continues to walk 2.5 miles on Juneteenth every year, the distance commemorating the number of years it took for news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Texas. Every year, thousands participate in “Opal’s Walk” in Fort Worth. 


The highly anticipated National Juneteenth Museum will be an epicenter for awareness and preservation of Juneteenth history. It will serve as a cultural and historical touchstone, emphasizing the pursuit of physical freedom and highlighting the national dialogue of equity, justice, peace and unity for all. 


As the city eagerly anticipates the opening of the museum, the NJM is hosting a speaker series called Uniting Voices. Its inaugural speaker was Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer, social justice advocate and author of the critically acclaimed NYT bestseller Just Mercy. Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and led the creation of the Legacy Sites, which include the Legacy Museum, National Memorial for Peace and Justice and Freedom Monument Sculpture Park, all in Montgomery, AL. 


On Thursday, March 28, Uniting Voices speaker series welcomed Isabel Wilkerson, the award-winning author of The Warmth of Other Sons and Caste. She is the first woman of African American heritage to win the Pulitzer Prize in journalism, and was the subject of Ava DeVernay's newest film, Origin, released this year. The conversation was moderated by Emmy-Award winning journalist Tashara Parker and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Opal Lee joined them on the stage. 


The next guest in the speaker series, Henry Louis Gates Jr., will come to Fort Worth on June 6 for a special Juneteenth presentation. Henry Louis Gates Jr., PhD, is celebrated for his multifaceted contributions to documentary filmmaking, scholarship and education. An Emmy and Peabody award-winning filmmaker, he has masterfully illuminated the pages of history through his numerous groundbreaking documentary series, including The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross and Finding Your Roots. Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University.


Future speakers are not yet known, but there are rumblings that some big names will come to Fort Worth to support the construction of the National Juneteenth Museum and continue the discussion of race, equality and justice in America. 


Tickets are now available to attend Uniting Voices with Isabel Wilkerson on March 28, 2024 at the Van Cliburn Concert Hall at TCU. Click here to purchase.