97-Year-Old 'Grandmother of Juneteenth' Opal Lee to Receive 8th Honorary Doctorate

"Her life’s work is most deserving of this recognition, and she will inspire our students," SMU President R. Gerald Turner said

<p>Taylor Hill/WireImage</p> Opal Lee

Taylor Hill/WireImage

Opal Lee

Opal Lee, or as she is affectionately known, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” has spent the bulk of her life championing for civil rights, specifically the push to make Juneteenth a national holiday — and now she is set to be recognized for her tireless efforts with another honorary doctorate.

Southern Methodist University recently announced that during its May 11 commencement ceremony Opal Lee, 97, will receive the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. It will be her her eighth honorary doctorate.

Following the announcement, SMU President R. Gerald Turner spoke of the importance of Lee’s legacy and her lifelong commitment to civil rights. “Her life’s work is most deserving of this recognition, and she will inspire our students,” Turner said.

Related: Juneteenth 2023: Everything You Need to Know About Juneteenth

In 2016, Lee traveled 1,400 miles from her Fort Worth home to Washington, D.C. to push for Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday before the Obama administration and Congress, according to Variety.

Five years later, on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden formally signed it into law. "I have to say to you, I have only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president — not because I did it, you did it, Democrats and Republicans," Biden said to Lee at the time. "It's an enormous, enormous honor."

Following the official passing of Juneteenth as a national holiday, Lee told CBS affiliate KTVT at the time, "I am so delighted to know that suddenly we've got a Juneteenth. It's not a Texas thing or a Black thing. It's an American thing."

<p>Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post via Getty </p> Opal Lee

Elizabeth Frantz for The Washington Post via Getty

Opal Lee

Last month, Lee also saw another dream become realized when she purchased the lot of her family home that was ravaged and burned in 1939 by a racist mob angered that Lee’s family was living in the neighborhood. After trying for years to repurchased the land and rebuild her family home, Lee discovered that it had been bought by Trinity Habitat for Humanity, according to the Associated Press.

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The organization’s CEO, Gage Yager, informed Lee that not only was the lot available for purchase, but that she could have it for just $10, the AP said.

“I know my mom would be smiling down, and my Dad," Lee said at a wall-raising ceremony last month. "He’d think: ’Well, we finally got it done.' "

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