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93-year-old woman leads push to make Juneteenth a national holiday

Posted at 7:41 AM, Jun 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-19 09:46:00-04

Friday is Juneteenth.

The holiday commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas learned they were free, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

A total of 47 states and Washington D.C. celebrate Juneteenth as either a state holiday or observance.

This week, the governors of New York and Virginia announced proposals to further recognize Juneteenth. But it's not a federal holiday.

A Texas woman has been fighting to make that happen for years. And for civil rights activist Opal Lee, it's personal.

On Juneteenth about 80 years ago, a mob of some 500 white supremacists tried to scare Lee’s family out of their home in Fort Worth, Texas.

“My father came with a gun and the police told him if he busted a cap, they would let the mob have us,” said Lee. “The paper said the police said the crowd was so large, they couldn't control them, but they tore that house apart. They burned furniture.”

Lee is now 93 years old, and she's dedicated her life to education and activism. In 2016, she he walked from Texas to D.C. to advocate for Juneteenth to become an official national holiday.

Even a pandemic won't stop her. This year, Lee has plans for a socially distant celebration and a symbolic 2.5-mile walk.

Lee says Juneteenth is about unity and recognizing freedom for all.

“Slaves weren't free on the Fourth of July, so if it happened now, I would be ecstatic,” said Lee.

If you'd like to join Lee's cause, you can add your name to her petition on Chang.org. She's hoping it will get to a million signatures and send a message to Congress to act.