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5 questions with Opal Lee, ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’

The civil rights activist reflects on her new home, the Medal of Freedom, National Juneteenth Museum, and hopes for the future of Fort Worth.

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City Editor Kate and Dr. Opal Lee chatted on the front porch of her new home.

Photo by FTWtoday

“Eighty-five years ago, a family lived here.” That was the refrain Judge Renée Toliver repeated in her speech during Dr. Opal Lee’s Welcome Home Celebration last week.

Toliver, Lee’s granddaughter, gathered with family, city leaders, and community members to dedicate the new home of “The Grandmother of Juneteenth.”

Toliver shared the story of 940 E. Annie St., where her great grandparents purchased a home in June 1939. Four days later on June 19, a mob of 500 racist rioters arrived to run the family — including 12-year-old Opal — out of the then-white Historic Southside neighborhood and burned the home.

Lee has since dedicated her life to fighting for racial justice and equity, advocating for the federal recognition of Juneteenth, the date that marked freedom for the last enslaved people in the country — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. In 2021, Lee stood by president Joe Biden as he signed the holiday into law.

But the activist didn’t stop there. In 2022, Lee was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and last month received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She continues to raise awareness about the holiday and the National Juneteenth Museum, set to open on Rosedale Street in 2026. (You can join Opal in raising awareness for the Juneteenth Museum during the annual Walk for Freedom, scheduled for Wednesday, June 19 at 9 a.m. at the African American Museum of Dallas.)

“There are so many ways that you can spread the love... It doesn’t have to be gigantic, but we’re all worthy people.”
Dr. Opal Lee, Grandmother of Juneteenth

At the dedication last week, 97-year-old Lee rested in a rocking chair on her new front porch, clutching the toothbrush she brought to christen the home. The three-bedroom, 1,700-sqft home was built for her by Trinity Habitat, Texas Capital Bank, and HistoryMaker Homes. The address? 940 E. Annie Street, the very same property her family was driven from 85 years ago.

We sat down with Lee to reflect on her new home and hopes for the future of Fort Worth.

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Following the dedication of Annie Street house, Trinity Habitat announced the construction of 100 new homes in Lee’s honor.

Photo by FTWtoday

What does it mean to you to receive the keys to this house?

It’s more than a dream come true. I’m just delighted and in awe to think that this house is where I’m going to live. I’m just awed.

What did receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom mean to you?

So many people were responsible for that. I wondered how they could enjoy it as much as I was enjoying it. To get the medal — that was a blast.

In terms of civil rights, what are your hopes for the next 10 years in Fort Worth?

That there’s no division — that we make this a city like upstate where they have a city called Brotherly Love. I’d like ours to be a city of brotherly love and sisterly love. I’d like us to be one big, happy family.

It’s going to get that way — in fact, it’s arriving right now. So much has changed, and I’m glad.

Renderings of the National Juneteenth Museum

The first 10% of the money raised for the new homes will go to the National Juneteenth Museum.

Renderings courtesy of BIG, KAI, and NJM

Are you looking forward to the National Juneteenth Museum?

A museum right here in Fort Worth that’s going to address Juneteenth all over the nation — there will be something in there for all the states, all other provinces — do you know how happy I am? I am indeed a happy camper.

What is one way you show kindness or empathy to others in your community every day?

I am willing to get food for those in our neighborhood who don’t have it. In fact, I’ve got a farm, and we’re growing produce for the WIC program.

I tell you, I’m just too glad to share anything I’ve got because people have shared so much with me, and I don’t know what else I could do.

At the farm, we’re working with people who’ve been incarcerated and can’t find jobs — we help with that. If they work on the farm and finish the course, Tarleton State College will give them accreditation.

I hope everybody knows how grateful I am, how thankful I am that so many people have contributed to all of this.

If there was one question you could ask our readers, what would you ask them?

To spread the love. There are so many ways that you can spread the love — help an old lady across the street, smile at somebody, watch the kids while their mother goes to the laundromat, read a book to a child — there’s so much you can do.

It doesn’t have to be gigantic, but we’re all worthy people. The Bible says ‘we are our brother’s keeper,’ so I want people to act like it.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us how you “spread the love” every day.

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