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Biden awards Medal of Freedom to Fort Worth's Opal Lee, "Grandmother of Juneteenth"

President Biden awards Medal of Freedom to Fort Worth's Opal Lee
President Biden awards Medal of Freedom to Fort Worth's Opal Lee 01:47

FORT WORTH — Opal Lee has long made headlines in North Texas, and throughout the country. This time, she was recognized with the nation's highest civilian honor — the Presidential Medal of Freedom — for her efforts in establishing Juneteenth as a national holiday.

President Biden lauded the 97-year-old and her pursuit for the most recent national holiday to be established in 2021. The last national holiday to be established was Martin Luther King Jr. Day back in 1983.

President Joe Biden awards the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to Opal Lee during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 3, 2024, in Washington. Alex Brandon / AP

Lee, also known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth," is one of 19 people who recieved the award Friday, including other civil rights activists Clarence B. Jones and Medgar Wiley Evers.

"These nineteen Americans built teams, coalitions, movements, organizations, and businesses that shaped America for the better," the White House said in a statement. "They are the pinnacle of leadership in their fields. They consistently demonstrated over their careers the power of community, hard work, and service."

RELATED STORY: "Grandmother of Juneteenth" Opal Lee reflects on her journey to secure a national holiday

Lee, also a retired teacher and counselor, walked from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. in 2017 to call on lawmakers to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. June 19, or Juneteenth, commemorates the day Gen. Gordon Granger told the last enslaved Black people in Galveston that they were free, which came almost two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.    

Lee told CBS she would walk two and a half miles at a time during her trek to D.C. to honor the two and a half years it took Gen. Granger to arrive in Texas.

RELATED STORY: Opal Lee, 'Grandmother of Juneteenth,' gets Texas portrait

The Lone Star state has also honored Lee for her efforts with a portrait hanging in the Capitol's Senate Chamber.

Furthermore, the civil rights activist has been given seven honorary doctorates, with an eighth on the way. On May 11, she will be honored by Southern Methodist University with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.

Lee was also honored with the Fort Worth Inc. magazine's 2022 "Person of the Year" award and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Congress that same year.  

RELATED STORY: Fort Worth breaks ground on new mixed-income housing named after Opal Lee  

Lee's lifelong fight for racial equity and justice began as a 12-year-old, when a white mob destroyed her childhood home and set it on fire in 1939. She's said she always wanted to reclaim that land. Just a few months ago, she found out Trinity Habitat for Humanity owned the property but they gladly gifted it to her. What's more, HistoryMaker Homes and Texas Capital is building her new home for free and furnishing it.

The home is set to be completed just in time for this year's celebration of Juneteenth. 

Habitat for Humanity rebuilding Opal Lee's childhood home 02:39
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