Woman Known As ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ Gifted Home 85 Years After Racist Mob Drove Family Away

by Gee NY
Opal Lee, left, applauds during a ceremony before aising the first wall to her new home on her family's former lot in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

Opal Lee, a 97-year-old community activist affectionately dubbed the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” is on the cusp of realizing a deeply personal dream.

After enduring racial violence that forced her family out of their Texas home 85 years ago, Lee is now witnessing the construction of a brand new house on the very same lot in Fort Worth.

“I’m not a person who sheds tears often, but I’ve got a few for this project,” said Lee.

A wall-raising ceremony held on Thursday, March 21, marked a significant milestone in the project, with Lee and others lifting the framework for the first wall into place.

The house is slated to be move-in ready by June 19, coinciding with the Juneteenth holiday that holds profound significance for Lee and commemorates the end of slavery in the US.

The significance of this date is not lost on Lee. It marks the 85th anniversary of the tragic event when a racist mob descended upon her family’s home, enraged by the presence of a Black family in the neighborhood. The mob vandalized the property, driving Lee’s family away and leaving painful scars.

Her determination to reclaim the land stemmed from a desire to honor her parents’ resilience. Despite the trauma they endured, they persevered and secured another home for their family. Lee, too, remained undaunted, eventually reaching out to Trinity Habitat for Humanity to inquire about the lot.

Gage Yager, CEO of Trinity Habitat for Humanity, recounted the moment Lee approached him about buying back the lot.

“I’d known Opal for an awfully long time but I didn’t know anything about that story,” said Yager. He facilitated the transfer of the property to Lee for a nominal fee, recognizing the importance of righting a historical wrong.

The home, built by HistoryMaker Homes and funded by Texas Capital’s philanthropic arm, is evidence of Lee’s indomitable spirit and the power of collective action.

Reflecting on the journey, Lee expressed gratitude for the opportunity to reclaim what was rightfully hers.

“I just want people to understand that you don’t give up,” she said. “If you have something in mind — and it might be buried so far down that you don’t remember it for years — but it was ours and I wanted it to be ours again.”

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