Opal Lee, Icon of Juneteenth, Set to Receive Honorary Doctorate from SMU

At 97 years old, Opal Lee, known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” successfully campaigned for Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, to be recognized as a national holiday. Now, SMU will award her an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at their May 11 commencement ceremony. Alongside her granddaughter Dione Sims, who is the founding executive director of the National Juneteenth Museum, Lee will participate in a symposium at SMU focused on her achievements. The symposium is free to attend with reservations.

SMU President R. Gerald Turner expressed his excitement, stating that having Opal Lee at the commencement and sharing her work at the symposium is a great honor for the university. Lee’s dedication led her to walk from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. in 2016, urging lawmakers to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. Fort Worth’s South Side is planning to establish a National Juneteenth Museum to preserve the history of Juneteenth and support local businesses.

Juneteenth marks the end of slavery after the Civil War, specifically noting the enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas two years after its initial issuance.

Aside from her honorary degree from SMU, Opal Lee serves as the honorary chair of the planned National Juneteenth Museum, sits on the board of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. This will be her eighth honorary degree.

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