Opal Lee, 95, pulled off her shoes and sat down to rest at her house in Fort Worth, Texas, after spending the morning in April at her 13-acre farm, a food bank, and a fundraiser for a Juneteenth museum.
She made a lighthearted comment about how the home resembled a museum because nearly every square inch of wall space was covered with photographs of her family as well as awards and plaques she had received for her efforts in transforming Juneteenth from a local backyard party into a nationally recognised holiday.
Despite the fact that Lee, also known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, was successful in making Juneteenth a federal holiday, this does not mean that she plans to slow down in any way, as many of her friends and acquaintances would confirm. She stated that additional effort needs to be done in order to use Juneteenth as an opportunity to educate, heal, and find solutions to many of the socioeconomic issues that disproportionately affect the Black community.
During the course of a Zoom chat with USA TODAY, she stated that “none of us are free until we are all free.” Which means we need to keep working toward eliminating the disparities that exist in our nation…. We need assistance.
Despite the fact that slavery did not become illegal in the United States until the 13th Amendment, Juneteenth is celebrated as a day that symbolises the end of the institution of slavery. Other names for this holiday include Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Jubilee Day. The day, January 1, 1865, that Major General Gordon Granger brought the news of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to the people of Galveston, Texas, is being remembered and celebrated with a holiday.
Campaigning to make Juneteenth a national holiday has been one of Lee’s primary focuses for the past five years. She was successful the year before.
She noted that the Juneteenth celebrations in Marshall, Texas, where she spent her childhood, had the same festive atmosphere as Christmas, complete with music, speeches, games, and food. She was just 12 years old when a white mob in Fort Worth torched the house that she and her family called home and forced them to leave.
She views Juneteenth as an opportunity to heal some of that trauma and is looking forward to celebrating it.
The celebrations have the potential to help Black Americans recover from the trauma of police shootings seen on camera, as well as the physical and mental toll that racism has had on them. At the same time, the country as a whole can also find healing in the festivities.
Before she helped organise one of the first major celebrations in the city – a three-day festival that drew more than 10,000 people each day in the 1970s – the parties in Fort Worth were mostly family affairs. With the assistance of the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society, she was able to organise one of the city’s first major celebrations.
In 1980, Texas was the first state to officially designate Juneteenth as a holiday for its residents. A little over six years ago, Lee made the decision to take Juneteenth beyond the borders of Texas. To do so, she set out on foot from Fort Worth to Washington, doing so in order to attract more attention to the celebration.
s Lee frequently shares with others the story of how she imagined that “a little old lady in tennis shoes” may garner some notice. At the time, she was 89 years old.
Bob Ray Sanders, a veteran journalist who worked at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and KERA-TV and who has written on Lee’s work continuously since the 1970s, described Lee as “tenacious.” “She doesn’t give up,” Sanders said. She does not shrink back from making the requests that she believes are necessary for the people in the community that she serves. She has been such a driving force.”
“BLACK GIRL MAGIC AT ITS FINEST”: Juneteenth pageants allow women and girls to be unabashedly black in a safe and accepting environment.
Even though her campaign was unsuccessful during either the Obama or Trump administrations, the holiday saw a resurgence of interest in 2020. This coincided with a growing interest among Americans in learning more about black history in the wake of widespread protests sparked by the death of George Floyd while he was in the custody of Minneapolis police.
About a month after Floyd’s passing, Lee went on her annual walk, and her petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday received more than a million signatures. The following year, President Joe Biden made it possible for Lee’s goal to become a reality by declaring June 19 to be a federal holiday beginning in 2021. On Juneteenth, employees at hundreds of different businesses are given the day off.
Lee has stated that the success of her campaign has made her feel “humbled.”
She said in an interview with USA TODAY that “Juneteenth as a celebration means a great deal to all of us.” “Perhaps this indicates that we have been successful in some endeavour.”
Lee has been a “tremendous influence” in spreading the word about the significance of June 19, according to Deborah Evans, vice chair of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, who has known Lee for approximately ten years and has said that she has been “a tremendous influence” in this endeavour.
Evans shared his thoughts by saying, “I tell her all the time that when I grow up, I want to be just like her.”
“There is a significant amount of work that needs to be done by us.”
Lee has a number of concerns that she wants to address in the city of Fort Worth. She plans to do so in part through her urban farm, which offers jobs to people who have been previously incarcerated, and a community food bank, which, according to the organisers, assists in the weekly feeding of hundreds of families.
These projects are a part of her decades-long efforts to address issues such as hunger, housing insecurity, educational disparities, and economic inequality as a member of a number of organisations in her local community. The lengthy list of volunteer work that Lee has completed for her community was detailed in a letter that 33 members of Congress signed in order to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022.
It is imperative that action be taken to address issues such as climate change, homelessness, and unemployment. She told USA TODAY that “we don’t have time to sit back and relax.” “There is a significant amount of work that needs to be done by us.”
Sanders referred to her efforts in the neighbourhood as “an tremendous success” in one of his statements.
He remarked, “She has been a pillar of support for a number of the local organisations.”
Marty Leonard, a board member of the water district who assisted Lee in acquiring the land for her farm, stated that Lee has helped “fill in gaps in the community.” Lee’s contributions have helped “fill in gaps in the community.”
“She has a lot of energy. “She’s one of a kind,” the other person remarked. “Should the situation call for it, she is capable of moving mountains.”
Lee is going to lead her yearly walk of two and a half miles, go to a breakfast of prayer, and see the Miss Juneteenth pageant this year. Lee, who spent many years working in the field of education, has stated that she wants to take advantage of the vacation as a time for learning, particularly at a time when lawmakers are making moves to restrict the teaching of lessons on racism in public schools.
She had a fantasy that in the year 2024, a Juneteenth museum will open, and that celebrations will continue “from the 19th of June until the Fourth of July.”
She explained it by saying that “since we weren’t free on the Fourth of July.” “And even now, we do not have complete independence.”