A proposed African American Museum and Cultural Center in Fort Worth takes another step Thursday as the committee steering the project reveals its possible location.
Experts in museums, as well as land use, have recommended five ideal sites. Three are in the Historic Southside and two are in the Cultural District.
Residents will learn more at a public forum Thursday evening and have the chance to share their thoughts.
"I really want people to come out," said steering comittee co-chair John L. Barnett, D.D.S. "Tell us what you think. You're not wrong with what you think, and we want to take everything we can hear and make the best decision, representing what we feel is the consensus of the community. We we are trying to move this process to this museum along with public input at every step."
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The idea of a museum surfaced as Fort Worth moved residents out of the Butler Place, the city's oldest public housing property. The relocation of residents ended in 2020.
Butler Place was named for Henry H. Butler, a Civil War veteran and the first African American teacher in the Fort Worth school system. Historical components include a red brick building that served as the original African American high school in Fort Worth, and later as Carver-Hamilton Elementary.
The Urban Land Institute was hired to study the property and recommended establishing a Butler Advisory Committee and preserving some part of the historic property to respect the legacy of the African American community.
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A 21-member steering committee is co-chaired by Barnett, a pediatric dentist and art collector, and Andy Taft, president of Downtown Fort Worth Inc.
Last November, the committee and the City of Fort Worth hosted a multi-day workshop led by a team of nationally recognized experts in the field of museum development and operations, particularly museums focused on African American culture and art.
The goal was to help determine whether Fort Worth should pursue a feasibility study for a museum, as well as program direction and funding.
"I think there is a great need for an African American Museum in Fort Worth primarily because I think our nation is at an inflection point," Barnett said. "We have gotten to the point where we need to embrace the vision of our founding fathers, particularly Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence that we hold all these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Then in March 2021, the Urban Land Institute surveyed proposed sites for a museum. The committee will present those five sites to the public Thursday night. The location at 1300 Gendy Street in the Cultural District is the leading choice right now but nothing will be decided without community support.
"We have vetted with other focus groups, and now we are trying to bring it to the public at large to get input, both supportive and different viewpoints so that as we are moving forward, step by step, transparent in our endeavors," Barnett said. "We want to bring everyone along because we need the community of Fort Worth to buy into this institution."
Barnett grew up on the northside of Fort Worth and lived in the area where Cattlemen's Steakhouse now stands and serves thousands of local and tourists every year. He remembers the Isis Theater on North Main Street. Back then he had to go through the side door and sit in the balcony.
His career as a dentist took him to Louisiana where he began his pediatric dentistry in 1978 in New Orleans. He served as president of several professional organizations and taught at LSU School of Dentistry for a decade.
After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2006, Barnett moved back to his childhood home in Fort Worth.
He believes the time for an African American Museum and Cultural Center is right, and Fort Worth is ready for it.
"Our mission statement is bringing people together through telling our stories," Barnett said. "This is an African American Museum but really it's the story of American history through the perspective of the African American. Sometimes when people hear African American Museum and Cultural Center, they think it's for African Americans. It's not. It's for our community at large. If we don't learn about each other if we don't embrace each others' significance and contributions to our society, how do we then manifest this grand experiment that our forefathers thought we were capable of doing?"
The African American Museum and Cultural Center Public Forum will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 12, at the Como Community Center, located at 4660 Horne Street.