Editor’s note: Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” visited Lansing, MI on May 5, 2022, and May 6, 2022. The 95-year-old Fort Worth, Texas, speaker and activist has been nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize.
The New Citizens Press was not notified of Lee’s visit until after the fact. There is no media coverage of her historic visit. We will be following up with Lee’s team for a future article or an update. We appreciate our nationwide alliance with other Black-owned media.
Photo: Opal Lee explains why she is so passionate about Juneteenth.
By Sylvia Dunnavant Hines
Texas Metro News
After years of teaching, founding the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society, and being a catalyst in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally–recognized holiday: 96-year-old Opal Lee remains a shining example of perseverance and commitment as she continues walking for freedom.
A grandmother to more than two dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Lee is known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” as she got to see her dream become a reality last year when on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed Senate Bill S. 475, making Juneteenth the 11th federal holiday.
“I still pinch myself sometimes, because I am not sure that it really has happened,” said Lee, who is not resting on her accomplishments. “Sometimes it is hard to believe that Congress took what we had to offer and moved forward with it. When the bill was first signed, I wanted to do a holy dance, but my kids say when I do my holy dance it looks like I am twerking!”
In celebration of Juneteenth, Lee will continue her 2.5 mile walk in Fort Worth on June 18, 2022, representing the two and a half years that it took Texans to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Abraham Lincoln.
The newly-recognized national holiday, a combination of the word June and the nineteenth day of the month, is a celebration of the end of slavery. Although the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1863, Texas didn’t find out about it until Union soldiers arrived in Galveston on June 19th in 1865.
From this point on, the date has been celebrated with prayer, feasting, singing and dancing.
Lee’s historic commitment led her to walk over 1,400 miles from Texas to Washington, DC to make sure the holiday was not only recognized in Texas, but around the country.
“I felt like if a little old lady in tennis shoes started walking to Washington DC, somebody would notice,” said Lee.
Lee’s capitol crusade received national attention which garnered her over 1.5 million signatures to help declare Juneteenth as a national holiday. She started walking from Fort Worth, Texas in September of 2016. She reached Washington, DC in January of 2017.
“We were still building momentum by the time we reached the White House.,” she said. “Can you imagine if we had three million people on the same page?
The author of Juneteenth: A Children’s Story, Lee believes efforts such as hers can change the country and she is determined to keep her tennis shoes on as this weekend she will lace up her shoes again when she continues her historic Annual Walk for Freedom in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I want freedom for everyone. People think we are just talking about freedom for Blacks, or Freedom for Texans. However, I am talking about freedom for everyone and most people don’t understand that. With homelessness and unemployment on the rise, people are in economic bondage.”
She continued, “In the education system, we have been told that we can’t tell the truth. People need to know what has actually happened so that they can heal from it. This is the only way we can be sure that it never happens again.”
With admiration and support, Lee’s granddaughter, Dione Sims has been helping her during her Juneteenth journey.
“God, knew the time that we would be living in, he knew that there would be a need for someone like my grandmother to be here during this moment, to be the grandmother of Juneteenth,” said Sims. “He knew that her efforts would help to usher in healing to America by acknowledging our past so that we can get past it to move to our future.”
Only four years from her hundredth birthday, Lee is forging forward with her commitment for freedom.
“I hope that through my efforts for freedom people understand that none of us are free until we are all free,” said Lee.
Photos by Sylvia Dunnavant Hines