“Grandmother of Juneteenth” visits Ardmore in preparation to build museum

Published: Aug. 19, 2022 at 6:53 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ARDMORE, Okla. (KXII) - Called the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” lifelong teacher and activist Opal Lee worked for decades to get Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday.

Now she’s building a new museum… She visited Ardmore on Friday, and spoke to News 12 about the stories she wants to tell.

“I hope that we change things for the better in my lifetime,” Lee said. “I’m looking forward to that, I really am.”

With donations, Lee is taking her local museum, and transforming it into a national museum, with artifacts from every state. Lee said her previous museum, located in Fort Worth, focused on local artifacts and local Juneteenth history.

“It has gained some credibility in the neighborhood, and others would like to see it gone,” Lee said.

She’s building the National Juneteenth Museum after working for decades to get Juneteenth- the day remembering June 19th of1865, when enslaved people in Texas were told President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier-recognized by the US as a national holiday.

She said the new museum will also be telling the stories of people in the Chickasaw Nation too.

“Because everybody needs to be aware that we need freedom, and Juneteenth is about freedom,” Lee said. “It’s not a Texas thing and it’s not a black thing, Freedom is for everyone. The enslaved in Oklahoma weren’t aware that they were free for another year. The united states had to make treaties with the Indians before they let they... let the slaves they had go. so it wasn’t until 1866 that slaves in Oklahoma knew they were free "

At 95 years old, Lee has seen dramatic changes in America’s civil rights. But she said there’s still room for improvement, and it starts with looking at the past.

“We don’t need to make mistakes that we’ve seen others make,” Lee said. “We can learn from it. And I hope this is what we can learn from Juneteenth-that it happened, and that it never happens again.”

The new museum is being built in Fort Worth, and Lee hopes you’ll be able to visit it by Juneteenth of 2024.