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Original Juneteenth museum burns in overnight blaze

The building was home to the original Juneteenth Museum for close to 20 years and was run by Miss Opal Lee.

FORT WORTH, Texas — A one-story home in Fort Worth – which once served as the original Juneteenth museum for close to 20 years – burned in an overnight fire, fire officials told WFAA. 

The Fort Worth Fire Department (FWFD) said firefighters responded at approximately 1:15 a.m. Wednesday to a reported structure fire in the 1100 block of Evans Avenue. 

When crews got to the scene, they found the wooded structure fully involved in flames, FWFD said. Two buildings adjacent to the home were also catching fire because of wind. Firefighters cleared the buildings and began fighting the fires in all three locations, which took close to an hour to extinguish, according to fire officials. 

One person was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and there were not any other reported injuries. 

The one-story, wooded residential home that caught fire was the original Juneteenth museum of close to 20 years, which was run by Miss Opal Lee. 

The Fort Worth Fire Department shared photos from the scene as firefighters fought the blaze: 

The cause of the fire is under investigation, according to FWFD.

The National Juneteenth Museum, which will be built in the same area as Evans Avenue and Rosedale Street, is set to open in the summer of 2025.

Lee spent so long trying to secure Juneteenth as a national holiday. That finally happened in 2021 and the 96-year-old Lee was by President Biden's side as he declared Juneteenth a national holiday. 

Lee told WFAA Wednesday that she's sad the building is no longer there -- a place where she made so many memories. 

"I feel like my past is getting away from me," Lee said. "There's been some really good times on that corner. We had a computer school there at one time before we had the Juneteenth museum. We had exhibits to show all the young people who needed to learn about Juneteenth--they were crude but they were still exhibits." 

"I hate that it burned down. 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." 

Lee told WFAA the building has mostly been used by the homeless as a camp lately. 

She said she was more worried about them than the four walls that were torched. 

"I wonder what on Earth they're going to do -- knowing that people don't have a place," Lee said. 

The good news: None of Lee's exhibits or artifacts were inside. They're in a safe place for the new Juneteenth museum. 

Lee said the fire is a horrible thing, but it reminds her of what's to come. 

"Understand that there's something new coming -- a new day. I want to see it in my lifetime," Lee said.

In a statement Thursday, National Juneteenth Museum Board Chairman, Dr. Gleniece Robinson thanked the Fort Worth Fire Department for their efforts to contain and extinguish the fire. Here's her full statement below: 

“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. Our team is working diligently to minimize any impact to the surrounding neighborhood from yesterday's events. What happened will not deter our efforts to establish and erect a world-class National Juneteenth Museum.”

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