With cheers echoing through the room, The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act passed overwhelmingly in the House on Wednesday in a 415 to 14 vote. The measure to make Juneteenth a national holiday now heads to the President’s desk.
It’s been Ms. Opal Lee’s life’s work. So much that the 94-year-old is known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” She’s used her feet and her voice for more than 40 years to fight for this day.
“The Lord has been with me all this time to give me 94 years to get this done,” said Lee.
Ms. Opal soldiered on for those who didn’t get to see this day. Those who were on the shores in Galveston, Texas when they discovered enslaved people were free, some two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. She said this measure is just the beginning of more work that must be done to address disparities.
“We’ve just begun to alleviate the disparities that exist. It’s a matter of our doing it together. It’s not a white thing or a Black thing, Asian, African. But it is an American thing.”
State Representative Carl Sherman called this a major victory after trying and falling short of getting a Juneteenth bill passed on the state level. Sherman also authored The Botham Jean Act (HB929). He said this about an effort to “move the ball” forward.
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“It’s taken this long. The country has really struggled with this,” said Rep. Sherman. “You would think that we would’ve already passed this point because we’ve celebrated Fourth of July for so long but it’s really not the celebration of all Americans being free.”
As for Ms. Opal Lee, there’s just one thing left to do.
“I’m so happy that I could do a Holy dance.”