Fort Worth

Activist, Leader Opal Lee Dedicates Her Life to Fort Worth Community

During Black History Month, NBC 5 is taking a closer look at the men and women who broke barriers and the people shaping the future for North Texas.

opal lee poses for a photo
NBC 5 News

Opal Lee was born on Oct. 7, 1926 in Marshall, Texas. Her family moved to Fort Worth when she was 10. Lee graduated from I.M. Terrell High School in 1943 at just 16.

Lee would eventually have a family of her own and would go on to earn her Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance from North Texas State University. She taught in Fort Worth for a decade and a half before dedicating much of her life to her community.

Lee helped found the Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity group which worked to help people in the community who had a hard time finding affordable housing. She also helped establish the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society which still works to preserve history of African Americans in Fort Worth.

Perhaps one of her greatest achievements is her continued support for the celebration of Juneteenth holiday.

Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Now, more than 40 other states recognize Juneteenth. The day marks the 1865 announcement in Texas that slavery was abolished. That announcement came two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Everybody needs to be free and we're not free yet," Lee said in an interview with NBC 5 in June 2019. "I want people to know they need a support system, and that doesn't have to be a black support system or a white support system. It simply needs to be the right support system."

Today Lee and her granddaughter, Dione Sims, help organize local Juneteenth celebrations.

"It is as important as the Fourth of July. In fact, I dream some day they celebrate from the 19th to the fourth, like they do Mardi Gras," said Lee. "I haven't dreamed as large as the Rose Bowl or the Macy's Parade, but I'm getting there!"

Now 93, she is still active in her community. Opal’s Farm, a community farm named after her, is one of those places she still stays active. The farm, located along the Trinity River in Fort Worth, celebrated in Summer of 2019.

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