Opal Lee, 95, historically advocated for the national recognition of June 19, 1865, instantly becoming known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth.” And now, thirty-three members of Congress have signed a letter nominating the Fort Worth native for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
Congressman Marc Veasey of Texas’ 33rd District led the effort.
In a nomination letter, members of Congress cited Lee’s continued dedication to equality as the cause for the nomination. “I have been proud to call Ms. Lee a friend and mentor for nearly my whole life and was honored to work alongside her to finally get Juneteenth made into a national holiday last year,” said Veasey. “I cannot think of a better person who has constantly fought for justice, and that is why I am nominating her to receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.”
June 19, 1865, widely considered the date when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, became a personal fight for Lee, who recognized the day when she was only 12-years-old.
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A mob of white supremacists attacked her home in a majority-white neighborhood.
“The celebration of Juneteenth became for her not just a day to celebrate the freeing of enslaved people in Texas but the recognition of the need to uphold the freedoms that African Americans gained and a call to fight … for equality for all humans,” the nomination letter said.
Lee would not be deterred and her decades-long efforts have been documented in national news outlets and children’s books. She walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in 2016 at 89 years old on behalf of the cause. In 2021, Lee went directly to the White House when President Joe Biden named Juneteenth a national holiday.
“I’m still reacting. I don’t know how to react,” she said. “I’m awfully, awfully glad. I’m humbled.” Lee said she’s simply been helping others as she learned from her parents and grandparents.
“We are our brother’s keeper. I’ve been told that all my life,” she said. “So I don’t know what to say except you just have to keep doing it.”
The letter in Lee’s name also recognizes her longstanding involvement in other organizations such as the Tarrant County Black Historical & Genealogical Society, which preserves and tracks Fort Worth’s Black history. She was the founding member of Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity, which is aimed at helping Fort Worth’s economically disadvantaged.
Lee has also led a nonprofit in acquiring the former KKK meeting hall on 1012 Main St. and transforming it into a center for multicultural healing and arts. She created the Fort Worth Juneteenth Museum, which will become the National Juneteenth Museum, and is intended to open sometime next year.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee selects the Nobel Peace Prize laureates or winners. Any living person or organization can be nominated but only certain groups can nominate candidates, including members of national government bodies or assemblies and former Nobel Peace Prize recipients.
Jan. 31 was the nomination deadline for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize, and the laureates will be announced in October.
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