Fort Worth

Opal Lee, ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth' Shares Her Thoughts on Her Nobel Peace Prize Nomination

The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced this year's winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Friday morning

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Friday is a big day for Fort Worth's own Opal Lee.

The civil rights activist and "Grandmother of Juneteenth" will celebrate her 96th birthday on Friday. She was also among the 343 candidates for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to jailed Belarus rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian group Memorial and the Ukrainian organization Center for Civil Liberties, a strong rebuke to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on his 70th birthday.

Though she did not ultimately win the award, Lee was grateful to have ben nominated.

"I was stunned," Lee said about hearing she was a candidate for the distinguished prize. "I was so sure that they made a mistake! I was humbled by that."

Lee was on a decadeslong mission to make Juneteenth, the day that enslaved people in Galveston found out they were free, a national holiday. Last year, Congress passed the bill and President Joe Biden signed it into law.

"It was the bomb," Lee said, laughing. "I think about all the people who have sacrificed, all the people who have been a part of this, and I keep telling folks; it's not a 'me thing,' it's a 'we thing.' Freedom is for everybody."

The Norwegian Nobel Committee announced the Nobel Peace Prize winner at 11 a.m. local time on Friday, which was at 4 a.m. in North Texas.

"I'm looking forward to it," Lee said, adding that she had a "Santa Claus-length" list of things she wants to do with the prize money if she wins.

Lee has no plans to slow down. She said she wants to keep fighting disparities in housing, food insecurity, climate change and other issues. Lee says everyone can do something.

"I want them to make themselves a committee of one. Change somebody's mind," Lee said. "People's minds can be changed. If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love."


Lee also shared how the nomination has elevated her mission to serve others to an international audience.

"I'm hearing from a lot more people, I guarantee you that. And I'm singing the same song, that we must work together to get rid of the disparities in our country and around the world. You know, maybe somebody will see what we're doing and follow suit. But we've got disparities that need to be addressed. There's homelessness and joblessness and health care that some of us can get and others can't and climate change that we are responsible for. Oh, there's so much that we need to work on. So I'm gonna take a little breather, and then we're gonna get back to work,” she said.

Lee also shared that she has a long list of projects she hopes to tackle if she wins.

"But at the top of that list, is a lady in Uganda, who's the mother of 44 children by the same husband. She's big on educating her children. And I want them to have decent housing. And so if Uganda doesn't have containers, I want to take containers, fully furnished, so everybody in that family will have a decent place to stay," Lee said.

"That's what I want for the very first thing if I win, and I've told you, if I don't win, I expect all my beautiful friends that I've had for ages and the brand new ones to help me get my projects done."

"I'm going to be happy as all get out, whatever happens," Lee said.

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