(Texas News Service) The 95-year-old Texan known as the "grandmother of Juneteenth" will celebrate this weekend, as she has for the past nine decades, but with the added knowledge she was instrumental in securing the date as a federal holiday.
Opal Lee decided to walk from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., six years ago, to raise awareness about the significance of Juneteenth. Lee traveled about 2.5 miles each day to symbolize the two-and-a-half years Black Texans waited for their freedom after Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery in 1862.
Lee said she has heard the many stories about why it took so long for news of the Emancipation Proclamation to reach Texas, but she prefers to think about what it meant to her ancestors.
"And when the people came in from their labor, and somebody read that general order to them, we started celebrating," Lee remarked. "And we've been celebrating ever since."
In 2021, President Joe Biden signed a bill making Juneteenth a national holiday, which means federal and some local offices will be closed, as will banks and the U.S. Post Office.
Even as a child, Lee spent Juneteenth picnicking with her family in her predominantly white Fort Worth neighborhood. At age 12, she watched a mob of 500 white supremacists burn her family's house to the ground, with no arrests made. She said the experience led her to a life of teaching, activism and most recently, campaigning.
"If people have been taught to hate, they can be taught to love," Lee asserted. "I want them to know that freedom is for all of us. None of us are free until we're all free."
And Lee believes many more problems in America could be solved if everyone pulled together.
"We need to address joblessness and homelessness, and everybody needs a decent place to stay, and climate change" Lee outlined. "There are so many disparities that, if we work together, we can eradicate."
Juneteenth celebrations will include freedom tours, reenactments, parades, concerts and more.