84 Years After Being Forced Out, Opal Lee’s Family Land is Returned


January 3, 2024

A house is being built for Lee and is expected to be completed sometime in 2024.

More than 80 years ago, Opal Lee—affectionately called the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” by many—lost her family home to a racist mob. Now, Lee has regained ownership of the land where the house once stood. Trinity Habitat for Humanity, the previous owner of the land, has also broken ground on a house that is expected to be completed in September.

Lee is recognized for her 2022 Nobel Peace Prize nomination, an honor she received after walking 1,400 miles from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., at the age of 89. Her rallying led to President Joe Biden naming Juneteenth a national holiday.

Lee reached out to Gage Yager, chief executive of Trinity Habitat for Humanity, with a request to purchase the land, WFAA (an ABC affiliate in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex), reports.

“She’s like, ‘You guys own my lot at 940 East Annie,’” Yager said. “She told me briefly: ‘I used to live on that lot, and people chased us out and burned the house down. I would love to buy the lot from you.’

“I said: ‘Well, Opal, we won’t sell it to you. We’ll give it to you.’”

They formalized the deal legally, transferring ownership to Lee for a small fee of $10.

Although Lee befriended Yager through her time on Trinity Habitat’s founding board, Yager had no idea what had happened more than 80 years ago. “She didn’t wear that on her sleeve or talk about it,” he said.

On June 19, 1939, a White mob wielding baseball bats gathered outside of the home for a raid. The family had moved in just a day prior but were forced out when the mob began breaking the windows, smashing the furniture, and burning their belongings. “The fact that it happened on the 19th day of June has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival,” she recounted in a 2021 interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“It’s both an amazing and terrible story, and hopefully, as she says, it comes full circle,” said Yager. “We’ll build a home, laugh, cry, and move her in. And we’ll celebrate the moment when that happens.”


Cover Photo: Opal Lee / Crystal Wise/Fort Worth Inc.

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