WACO, TX — When President Biden put pen to paper last week declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday, sitting front row at the White House was Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texan who has made honoring the holiday her life’s work.
“It’s not a Black holiday, it’s not a Texas holiday," Lee told 25 News in an interview this week. "It represents freedom, not only for those that got it last in Galveston, but for all of us."
Freshly back from a whirlwind trip to Washington D.C., the longtime activist and advocate still can’t quite believe years of dedicated work finally ended with national recognition.
Turns out, 2021 was just the right moment, according to Lee.
“The young people are saying enough is enough. We need to do something about the racism and disparities in our country,” said Lee.
For years, the Fort Worth resident has led people from all walks of life on an annual march to the nation’s capitol as part of the effort to get Juneteenth declared a federal holiday.
June 19th has long represented a pivotal moment in American history as the day when still enslaved Black men and women in Galveston learned they were actually free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
Most states recognize it as a state holiday, but federal observance seemed like a hill to steep to climb. After all, the last federal designation was MLK day way back in 1983.
But then Ms. Opal started marching, and she isn’t slowing down anytime soon.
“There’s so much work to be done, so we’re gonna breath deep and jump into it,” said Lee.