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Juneteenth activist Opal Lee receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Christopher Connelly

Fort Worth activist Opal Lee, known for her work to have Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Friday

The White House on Friday announced Lee is one of 19 recipients of this year's award, along with civil rights activists Clarence B. Jones and the late Medgar Evers. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor, “presented to individuals who have made exemplary contributions to the prosperity, values, or security of the United States, world peace, or other significant societal, public or private endeavors,” according to a White House news release.

Known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” Lee is being recognized for her years-long effort campaigning to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Eight years ago, at the age of 86, she began walking from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. — two and a half miles every day for the two and a half years that Black Texans waited after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 before the message arrived in Galveston in 1865.

In 2021, more than 150 years later, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday that commemorates the end of slavery after the Civil War. Now 97, Lee has led a walk every Juneteenth since, and is a driving force behind the national Juneteenth Museum planned for Fort Worth.

Biden presented the awards during a ceremony Friday afternoon at the White House.
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Zara Amaechi