Moment in History
Grandmother of Juneteenth
Taken from The Real Opal Lee
“Ms. Opal is a voice of history with a message for the future. Many consider her the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” but if you ask her who she is, she will tell you she’s “just a little old lady in tennis shoes getting in everybody’s business.”
Opal Lee is an American retired teacher, counselor, and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday. She is often described as the "grandmother of Juneteenth".
Lee was born in Marshall, Texas on October 7, 1926. She was the oldest of three children of Mattie and Otis Flake. When she was 10 years old, she and her family moved to Fort Worth, Texas.
In June 1939, her parents bought a house in the 900 block of East Annie Street, then a mostly white area. On June 19, 1939, 500 white rioters vandalized and burned down her home. Lee was twelve years old at the time. Recalling it years later, she said, "The fact that it happened on the 19th day of June has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival."
Opal Lee attended I.M. Terrell High School, Fort Worth's first black high school. She graduated high school in 1943 at the age of 16. She didn’t go straight to college after graduation which was a grave disappointment to her mother, but did eventually get there after getting married, having four children and getting divorced. She earned her Bachelors of Arts degree in 1953 from Wiley College (now Wiley University) and returned to Fort Worth to teach at Amanda McCoy Elementary School for 15 years where she was regarded as one of the best educators in her field. At night she worked at Convair (now Lockheed Martin) to support her children. She later obtained her Master’s degree in Counseling and Guidance from North Texas State University and served as Home/School Counselor for Fort Worth Independent School District until her retirement in 1977.
Retiring gave Mrs. Lee the time and opportunity to become even more involved in the community. She was one of the founding members of Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity (CCHD) which was formed to assist the economically disadvantage in finding housing in Fort Worth. She volunteered at Habitat for Humanity, and served as a member of the board. She now serves on Habitat’s Land Acquisition Board.
Ms. Opal Lee began Opal’s Walk 2 DC in 2016 at age 89. She started with the plan to walk the 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, DC in hopes of gaining support from Congress to officially name Juneteenth a national holiday. With the goal of 100,000 petition signatures, Ms. Opal set out on her mission and hasn’t stopped since. She has since reached over 1.5 million signatures.
On June 17, 2021, President Biden passed a bill making Juneteenth a the 11th National Federal holiday. Ms. Opal stood alongside the president during this historic occasion and received the pen in which he used to sign off on the law.
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Episodes Edited by: Juels N. Evans, Tech Engineer Editor
Resources: WK, www.opalwalks2dc.com
Podcast music: Soundstrips.com, Title-Bitz
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