Opal Lee, Southern Methodist University, Grandmother Of Juneteenth

Southern Methodist University To Present ‘Grandmother Of Juneteenth’ Opal Lee, With Honorary Degree

Lee will receive her honorary degree during the university's commencement at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, May 11, in Moody Coliseum, 3009 Binkley Ave.

Trailblazing civil rights leader Opal Lee, renowned as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” will be honored by Southern Methodist University (SMU) with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during its May 11th commencement ceremony.

“Having Ms. Lee join us at commencement and share her work through a symposium is a signal of honor for our university,” SMU President R. Gerald Turner said, according to the university. “Her life’s work is most deserving of this recognition, and our students will be inspired by her.” Prior to the commencement, Lee’s remarkable achievements will be recognized at a free symposium on May 9. According to SMU, she will attend with her granddaughter, Dione Sims, the founding executive director of the National Juneteenth Museum.

A momentous milestone in Lee’s journey will be realized in 2025 with the opening of the $70 million, 50,000-square-foot National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth’s South Side, where Lee has operated her own modest museum. Beyond serving as a museum and cultural center, the complex will include a business incubator and a mixed-income residential community.

Lee, the honorary chair, and Sims, a legacy board member, have been instrumental in bringing this vision to fruition. As previously mentioned by BLACK ENTERPRISE, Lee has dedicated her activism to the memory of the formerly enslaved people of Texas. Lee’s vision to commemorate Juneteenth in the state and establish it as a federally recognized holiday was achieved on June 17,  2021, when President Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Lee’s unwavering dedication has garnered numerous accolades, including seven honorary doctorates. She was named 2021 Texan of the Year by the Dallas Morning News editorial board, Fort Worth Inc.’s 2022 Person of the Year, and nominated for a 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. Remarkably, in 2023, she became only the second African American to be honored with a portrait in the Texas State Senate chamber.

Join the live stream to view the presentation of Lee’s degree.