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Fort Worth’s new Black culture & history center needs a home

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Editorials and other Opinion content offer perspectives on issues important to our community and are independent from the work of our newsroom reporters.

The best place for a new Black history and cultural center is atop the hill in the Fort Worth Cultural District.

But the decision isn’t going to be that easy.

Remodeling the current Community Arts Center, a city art museum at 1300 Gendy St., seems like the practical choice to help a new museum draw tourist traffic.

That price tag: about $10 million.

But there is also a strong argument to build the new Fort Worth African American Museum and Cultural Center in the Historic Southside, near a proposed new National Juneteenth Museum on Evans Avenue.

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Gospel singer Kirk Franklin, civil rights leader Opal Lee or basketball-star-turned-business-leader James Cash might be among those featured in a Fort Worth African American Museum and Cultural Center. Rodger Mallison, Fort Worth Star-Telegram collection Handout photo, Star-Telegram archives, UT Arlington Library Special Collections

That location would cost about $35 million.

Where would more tourists go — to the Cultural District, or the Historic Southside?

Where would more visitors learn about business leaders like banker “Gooseneck Bill” McDonald or chef Lucille Bishop Smith, or civil rights heroes like Judge Clifford Davis or Opal Lee, or certified nurse Mary Keyes Gipson, or musicians like jazz’s Ornette Coleman or gospel’s Kirk Franklin, or sports stars like the Fort Worth Cats’ Maury Wills or basketball champion Robert Hughes and his genius student James Cash?

Wherever the biggest audience would go, that’s where Fort Worth’s Black history treasures should rest.

It’s tough enough to build two museums at once, although the Juneteenth Museum is national in its scope and support.

Timing alone may send the Fort Worth museum and cultural center, led by dentist and art collector John Barnett, to the city facility in the Cultural District.

An African American Museum there would almost be closer to the original mission of the Community Arts Center.

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The Community Arts Center was built in 1954 as a city art museum. A theater was added in 1966. Rodger Mallison Star-Telegram archives

When the arts center took over the old city art museum and Scott Theatre 20 years ago, the host Arts Council promised to offer a multicultural arts center and bring diversity to the Cultural District.

At the time, UT Arlington officials were also talking over a proposal to replace the art museum with a branch of the Institute of Texan Cultures, which showcases the state’s racial diversity.

But the Arts Council snagged it first. The result basically has been a catch-all facility for local gallery shows, arts group offices, theater performances and rental events.

Since pay parking and larger crowds came to the Cultural District, those small civic events have found other homes.

The Community Arts Center is in a 68-year-old building originally built as the Fort Worth Art Center. In 1996, the adjacent Scott Theatre was added.

That museum eventually became what is now the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, in its newer home next to the Kimbell Art Museum. But the original Gendy Street property remains a prime location for a destination museum.

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The Community Arts Center was built in 1954 as a city art museum. A theater was added in 1966. Rodger Mallison Star-Telegram archives

When the Community Arts Center opened in 2002, the Star-Telegram editorialized that it would be a great location to tell stories of the “everyday lives and extraordinary personal achievements” of Black residents, from the early freedmen to the doctors, nurses and judges who built a professional community and military heroes such as the city’s Tuskegee Airmen pilots.

“It’s a tall order to create a quality Black history museum,” we wrote in 2002, “but it would be a great community asset.”

That editorial even asked to include Black history exhibits in the Community Arts Center.

I would say this museum is 20 years overdue. But it’s really 150 years overdue.

Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 18 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.




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