Juneteenth holiday federally recognized thanks in part to 95-year-old Opal Lee

Juneteenth 2022 lands on Sunday

ByCheryl Burton WLS logo
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Juneteenth federal holiday thanks in part to Opal Lee, 95
Is Juneteenth a holiday? President Joe Biden signed it into federal law last year.

DALLAS -- Opal Lee, 95, spent years lobbying for federal recognition of Juneteenth, and her work finally paid off.

"I still pinch myself sometimes, to see if it really happened," said Lee, known as the "grandmother of Juneteenth."

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed it into federal law, thanks in part to Lee.

"To be invited to the White House, to see Juneteenth signed into law? Oh, I was humbled. I wanted to do a holy dance, but the kids say I try, I'm twerking," she said.

But, the win did not come easily.

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Lee organized dozens of 2.5-mile walks to bring awareness to the two and a half years it took for the Emancipation Proclamation to be enforced in Texas.

She and her team also rallied hundreds of thousands of people to sign a petition.

"We took 1,500,000 signatures to Congress, and we were ready to take that many more when we got the call to go to the White House," Lee said.

But, Lee said her work isn't finished, and equity is still something she fights for daily.

"We all want the same thing -- want a decent place to stay, a job that's going to pay us a decent wage. We want schools that actually teach our children what really happened or people don't know where to go, and if they don't know where they came from, if we can be taught to hate, we can be taught to love," she said.