North Texas Woman Dedicated to Making Juneteenth a National Holiday

Opal Lee's Fort Worth home is part library, part museum. The walls are filled with photos of family and memorabilia from Juneteenth celebrations and proclamations over the years.

"You have to do something to keep your sanity in a world like this," the 92-year-old Lee said. "Just like there's a King holiday, there's gonna be a Juneteenth holiday."

Texas was the first state to make Juneteenth a state holiday. Now, more than 40 other states recognize Juneteenth. The day marks the 1865 announcement in Texas that slavery was abolished. That announcement came two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

"Everybody needs to be free, and we're not free yet," said Lee. "I want people to know they need a support system, and that doesn't have to be a black support system or a white support system. It simply needs to be the right support system."

Lee points out there are still disparities in housing, jobs, income and education.

"I want folks to know that black people bleed red blood, that we want the very same things they want," Lee said. "We can get so much more done if we work together than if we pull against each other."

Today Lee and her granddaughter, Dione Sims, help organize local Juneteenth celebrations. On Wednesday afternoon, they watched a Facebook post from Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders that praised Lee's efforts to make it a national holiday.

"I live this with her all the time," said Sims. "Somebody else recognizes it and appreciates it...it makes you go, wow, all that effort was, you know, for something."

"It is as important as the Fourth of July. In fact, I dream some day they celebrate from the nineteenth to the fourth, like they do Mardi Gras," said Lee. "I haven't dreamed as large as the Rose Bowl or the Macy's Parade, but I'm getting there!"

Contact Us