On May 9, 2023, Humanities Texas celebrated our fiftieth anniversary with a reception at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. While there, our staff spoke with Fort Worth-based grantees about their work in the humanities, including the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society and the North Fort Worth Historical Society.
The Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society and the North Fort Worth Historical Society are committed to preserving and sharing local history. Both societies operate museums of their own: the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum and the Stockyards Museum, respectively.
The Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society began when community activist Lenora Rolla noticed that much of the important archival material related to Black residents of Tarrant County was held in private collections, leaving none publicly available in local universities or libraries. To rectify this, twenty-one charter members, including Rolla, founded the society in April 1977.
"Our mission is, of course, to collect, preserve, organize, and share [the history and materials] with everyone, not just the Black community—everyone—because we should all know this history," Executive Director Brenda Sanders-Wise said.
One year earlier, in 1976, the North Fort Worth Historical Society was founded with the mission to preserve the history related to North Fort Worth and the Stockyards, focusing on the livestock and meatpacking industries.
"We should really be careful not to lose our history. All the historical markers . . . in the Stockyards have been put there by the North Fort Worth Historical Society," said Stockyards Museum Director Teresa Burleson. "We want to educate the public about where they are and why it is here."
Both organizations received Humanities Texas COVID-19 Relief Grants in 2021. The North Fort Worth Historical Society received a second Relief Grant in 2020. Humanities Texas Relief Grants were available to cultural and educational nonprofits affected by the coronavirus pandemic for both general operating support and humanities programming.
"If it hadn't been for the money that Humanities Texas gave us, I don't know that we'd still be open," Burleson said. "That was such a blessing, and that didn't happen to a lot of people. And even though we were closed, we weren't shut down."
These organizations are two of 124 in the Fort Worth area that have received Humanities Texas grants in the last fifty years. During our fiftieth anniversary reception in Fort Worth, we spoke with these organizations to learn about their service to their local communities and how they are finding new ways to engage the public.
With support from a Humanities Texas Relief Grant, the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society bought a professional scanner. Prior to receiving the grant, the society had partnered with the University of North Texas, where they were able to send photos and other archival material to be digitized. Now, with a scanner on site, they can send digitized items directly to UNT’s Portal to Texas History.
The society also conducted a community scanning project, where they asked local organizations and leaders to bring documents, photographs, and any pertinent history about themselves, their organizations, or their community to be scanned into the society's digital archives.
"It gave us an opportunity to invite the community to the building," Sanders-Wise said. "They hadn't been to it before—some of the people that live right here in Fort Worth."
During the project, the society recorded oral histories to accompany the collected materials. They partnered with an artist, Charles Gray, who produced videos of community members speaking about their items. They then shared these clips on social media to promote their new collections and reach a wider audience.
"We are creating space for everyone within our museum. You can be an athlete, an artist, a historian, a community activist, or a Tarrant County resident. There is something for everyone to enjoy at the Lenora Rolla," said Megan Coca, the center's educator-outreach coordinator.
In addition to the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum, Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society hosts a variety of events throughout the year, all designed to build awareness of what they do. They hold a juried art show during Black History Month, a Tarrant County Harambe Festival in October, and a 5K Fun Run and One Mile Walk in November. In the past, they've hosted Seafood, Chicken and Blues Nights, an anti-bullying rally, and a Greek stroll with fraternities and sororities. This is in addition to their day-to-day work of preserving and sharing Tarrant County's history, from hosting educational seminars and workshops to creating a guide for the collections.
"We're here to share," Sanders-Wise said. "If you go on our website, it tells you we want to share this with everyone because we have a very diverse community. The information may be Black, but it's for everyone to learn about the contributions of African Americans in Tarrant County."
In addition to running the Stockyards Museum—which boasts a collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibitions documenting everything from Fort Worth American Indian connections to the livestock market and the Swift and Armour packing plants—the North Fort Worth Historical Society also hosts a number of events throughout the year. One of these is their annual Saints and Sinners Tour.
Every year, during the last weekend of October, the Saints and Sinners Tour takes place at the historic Oakwood Cemetery. The cemetery was built from land donated by John Peter Smith, a Fort Worth entrepreneur and civic leader, in the late nineteenth century. Many individuals notable in Fort Worth history are interred at the cemetery, including Texas Ragtime pianist and composer Euday Louis Bowman and Charles Allen Culberson, the twenty-first Governor of Texas.
During the tour, volunteers do reenactments as some of these figures to share information about their lives. The event is popular among Fort Worth residents.
"The last time we sold reservations, the Saturday night tour sold out within forty-five minutes, and the Friday night tour sold out within two hours," Burleson said.
Since the pandemic, the museum is slowly returning to pre-COVID attendance, and volunteers—new and old—are returning.
"When COVID hit, some of my volunteers couldn't or wouldn't come back," Burleson said. "So it's been a challenge. But the volunteers I have, we're like family."
These featured programs are just a few examples of what Humanities Texas grants have made possible for five decades, not just in North Texas but throughout the state. We look forward to sharing more stories from our grantees in forthcoming newsletters.