Opal Lee, 97, ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth,’ to be Awarded 8th Honorary Doctorate

Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Southern Methodist University during its commencement ceremony on May 11. This marks the 97-year-old’s eighth honorary doctorate.

SMU President R. Gerald Turner said in a statement, “Having Ms. Lee visit us at commencement and share her work through a symposium is a significant honor for our University. Her life’s effort is well deserved of this honor, and our students will be inspired by her.”

Lee’s aspirations will soon be realized with the construction of the $70 million, 50,000-square-foot National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth. She previously had her own little Juneteenth museum.

The new facility will house people of various income levels while also functioning as a museum, cultural center, and business incubator. Lee is the museum’s honorary chair, with her granddaughter, who serves on the legacy board.

Lee has received numerous awards over the years. According to FortWorth Magazine, she has headed the board of the Community Food Bank of Fort Worth and served on the boards of Unity Unlimited, Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity, Habitat for Humanity, and the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society.

Lee, an 89-year-old retired schoolteacher and activist, led a symbolic march from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C. in 2016 to advocate for Juneteenth as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery after the Civil War. She convinced President Joe Biden to approve legislation declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday on June 17, 2021.

The activist has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, Fort Worth Inc.’s 2022 Person of the Year, and the Dallas Morning News editorial board’s 2021 Texan of the Year.

In 2023, her portrait was placed in the Texas State Senate chamber, making her only the second African American to earn this honor. The grandmother of Juneteenth has already received seven honorary doctorates, including one from her own college, the University of North Texas.

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