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Who Is The Woman Behind The Juneteenth Holiday?

Opal Lee Juneteenth Image/ Zerb Mellish

Who Is Opal Lee?

Opal Lee is a 96-year-old activist who is widely known for advocating for Juneteenth to be recognized as a U.S. federal holiday. Juneteenth (June Nineteenth) commemorates the end of slavery. On June 19, 1865, General Gordon Granger and federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and took control of the state to free the last remaining enslaved people in America. It is celebrated in America as the Black Freedom Day.

Southern Living Interview of Opal Lee and her mission

Opal Lee’s Impact

In 2016 at the age of 89, Ms. Lee began a walking campaign around her efforts to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. She completed her walking campaign in 2.5-mile increments in reference to the number of years it took for enslaved people in Texas to learn they were free. The enslaved people in Texas remained enslaved 2.5 years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

After 2016 the walking campaign became an annual event. One year Lee took the walking campaign from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. She walked to D.C. with hopes that her efforts would be noticed. Hope and Ms. Lee’s hard work paid off approximately 5 years after the start of her walking campaign.


On June 17, 2021, Ms. Lee witnessed U.S. President Joe Biden signed the Senate Bill S. 475 making Juneteenth the 11th federal holiday.

What Is Opal Lee Doing Today?

For her efforts and continuous activism around the Juneteenth holiday, Ms. Lee is known as “the grandmother of Juneteenth”. She published an educational children’s book about the holiday entitled “Juneteenth: A Children’s Story”. She is currently raising funds for a National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.

Fox 4 on Opal Lee recent works

Learn more about Opal Lee and her efforts, here.

Check out: Juneteenth Is Now A National Holiday


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