‘We are truly all brothers and sisters’

‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Opal Lee speaks at UTA

Thursday, Apr 14, 2022 • Devynn Case : Contact

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Opal Lee, left, with Associate Professor Sedrick Huckaby.

Dr. Opal Lee, a civil rights activist known as “the Grandmother of Juneteenth,” told an audience at The University of Texas at Arlington that the National Juneteenth Museum planned for Fort Worth “will show the world that we can work together.”

“Juneteenth is not just a Texas thing, it’s not just a Black thing—we’re talking about freedom for everyone,” said Lee, a Fort Worth native and The Dallas Morning News’ 2021 Texan of the Year. “We must realize that we are truly all brothers and sisters.”

The April 13 event was organized and sponsored by UTA’s Art and Art History Department, Center for African American Studies (CAAS), Office of the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and NAACP chapter. Lee discussed the museum project with Mavericks, spoke about her tireless efforts to spread awareness about Juneteenth and Black history in the South and signed copies of her book Juneteenth: A Children’s Story.

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“Dr. Lee has had an impact in so many ways and is a champion of all the best ways that we can move forward as a society,” said Jason Shelton, associate professor of anthropology and sociology and CAAS director. “This is an amazing and quintessentially American story of a woman who has championed the importance of Juneteenth.”

Born in 1926, Lee, a retired Fort Worth ISD teacher and school counselor, spent decades as an activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when news of the federal order ending slavery in the United States reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas—almost three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

In June 2021, at the age of 94, Lee saw her efforts succeed when the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. Lee was an honored guest and received a standing ovation at the bill-signing ceremony where her dream became a reality.

“I picked cotton and I wasn’t smiling,” said Lee, a nominee for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. “If we are not aware of our history, it will happen again. People need to know the truth because if we don’t tell the truth, how are we going to survive?”

A museum honoring the history of Juneteenth is set to be built in Fort Worth. The museum will educate guests on the legacy of Juneteenth and the experiences of enslaved people.

Sedrick Huckaby, associate professor of art and art history, called Lee a “visionary” as he presented a portrait he created of her. The piece, entitled “Portrait of an Author, Dr. Opal Lee,” features Lee with her book in the foreground and the people who have inspired her in the background, including President Barack Obama and politician Stacey Abrams.

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Sedrick Huckaby (left), associate professor of art and art history, presented Opal Lee with a portrait he created.