Opal Lee, ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’, receives honorary doctorate from alma mater

A trailblazer, who's known to many as the grandmother of Juneteenth, received an honorary doctorate degree from Wiley College.
Published: Mar. 17, 2023 at 9:36 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2023 at 10:47 PM CDT
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MARSHALL, Texas (KSLA) - A trailblazer, who’s known to many as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, received an honorary doctorate degree from Wiley College on Friday, March 17.

Opal Lee, a Marshall, Texas native, graduated from Wiley College in 1952. After nearly 71 years, she’s being recognized as a civil rights pioneer.

Wiley’s historic commitment led her to walk 1,400 miles at the age of 90-years-old from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington D.C in order to ensure that Juneteenth was recognized not just in Texas, but across the entire country as well. She accomplished her goal, and in June of 2021, she stood alongside President Biden, who passed the S.475 bill, making Juneteenth a national holiday.

“The enslaved in Texas didn’t know they were free for two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Texas so big that the word supposedly didn’t get to Galveston, but we think it did because plantation owners had brought slaves to Galveston thinking that when the Civil War was over, they’d go back and get them.”

Wiley College President Herman Felton says Lee’s contributions are monumental.

“The fact that she was able to make an impact and leave an indelible imprint really speaks to her tenacity,” Felton said.

Wiley College student leaders say they’re inspired by Lee.

“Made me realize it doesn’t matter where you come from, you know. Anyone can make a difference. Knowing that she graduated from here, it makes me proud to be at Wiley College,” said a student.

“You know her charisma, her character, her attitude, it was just so heartwarming just to see such a woman of so much power, so much high distinction, to just talk to us and give us words of encouragement.”

Lee says there’s still more work to be done.

“As long as we don’t do something about the joblessness, and the homelessness, and the healthcare that some can get and others can’t and climate change, we aren’t free. None of us are free until we’re all free,” Lee said.