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Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteeth,” celebrated after Juneteeth, a day she has been fighting for years to become a reality — was recognized as a federal holiday.
Last week, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris signed a bill into law on Thursday to make June 19 a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans.
Lee was one of the White House guests invited to watch the bill be signed into law.
“Juneteenth marks both a long hard night of slavery subjugation and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said, adding that the day is a reminder of the “terrible toll that slavery took on the country and continues to take.”
And while Biden garnered much of the praise, it was Lee who had been campaigning for decades.
“I learned about Juneteenth in Marshall, Texas, where I grew up. We would go to the fairgrounds for the festival. Everybody would have such a good time. There were sack races, food, dominoes, all kinds of things. When we got to Fort Worth, not so much,” Lee told OprahDaily.com.
“People celebrated with their families. There was an incident that happened after we moved from Marshall to Fort Worth. My parents bought a house, and my mom had it fixed up so nice. But on the 19th of June, 500 people gathered who didn’t want us in that neighborhood, and they tore that place apart and burned the furniture. My parents had sent us to friends several blocks away, and they left after dark. I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it or not, but Juneteenth has been foremost in my mind for a long time, a long time.”
Lee has spent most of her life combatting racism through her teaching, activism and tireless campaigning.
In 2016, Lee set out on a journey from Fort Worth to Washington, walking 2½ miles a day to raise awareness and campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday. She was 89 at the time.
Despite her Juneteenth work coming to fruition, Lee has no plans to put her feet up.
“We’re going to tackle housing. We’re going to tackle joblessness. We’re going to tackle schools not putting the right things in the books. We’re going to tackle health care. And we’re going to tackle climate change. You hope I live that long,” the former teacher said per The Dallas Morning News.
Thank you, Opal Lee.