Texas Senate honors Opal Lee, the 'Grandmother of Juneteenth'

The "Grandmother of Juneteenth" was honored at the Texas Senate Wednesday morning.

With friends and family packed in the upper gallery of the Texas Senate, Opal Lee sat in a small chair as everyone in the chamber cheered and gave her a standing ovation.

Lee is known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth," but not because she is 96. The Fort Worth community activist was instrumental in getting June 19 designated as a national holiday. 

Juneteenth is a celebration for when slaves in Texas were notified they were free. 

Lee was back in Austin as part of a promise made two years ago by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

"We'd like to give you thanks, in being a man of your word, and keeping your word," said State Senator Borris Miles (D) Houston.

The promise was the portrait of Lee unveiled by Patrick and Senator Royce West. She later described what she felt during the big reveal.

"I was so happy, so humbled. I wanted to do a holy dance with the kids now twerking. That would have been okay. But it was beautiful, I didn’t know I looked that good," said Lee.

Lee is the second African American to have a portrait placed in the state senate. The first was Congresswoman Barbra Jordan.

"There's so many other people who have done things much greater than what I've done. All I've done is simply say, we need to work together," said Lee.

It will be up to officials with the State Preservation Board to decide where in the Senate Chamber the painting will be placed. Officials with the board were not able to say exactly when the portrait will be up.

Just behind the unveiling was the portrait of Jefferson Davis, a representation of the racial divide in Texas. Recent efforts to remove the painting of the confederate President seemed to have stalled and FOX 7 asked Senator West about it.

"I think that there has to be a discussion about whose portraits are appropriate in the Senate chamber to be reflective of the citizens. We can't hide from the history of this state. You know, should it be in a museum, or should it be there? That's a debate that we're going to have. But I was glad to see the Lt. Governor make the suggestion 2 years ago that we ought to honor Opal Lee," said West.

The slow pace of change is something Lee knows well. She urged those who want to make a difference not to get discouraged.

"Well, I've said to them to make themselves a committee of one, they’ve got to change somebody's mind. And minds can be changed. If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. It is up to these young people to do it. It's not going to happen in a day. They got to work at it," said Lee.

Lee is an example of how that kind of work can bring about change.