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opal lee juneteenth

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95-year-old Opal Lee is a history maker and freedom advocate.

The Fort Worth, Texas-based educator, who is often referred to as “The Grandmother of Juneteenth,” has dedicated her life to getting June 19 recognized as a national holiday with success.

In 2016, Lee effectively embarked on a 1,400-mile trek from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. to get Congress’ attention about Juneteenth. 

The activist walked 2.5 miles at a time, symbolic of the two and a half years it took General Gordon Granger to inform enslaved people in Galveston, Texas that slavery was abolished in 1863.

As a result, what is now celebrated as Juneteenth is the freedom of Galveston’s enslaved community on June 19, 1865.

Lee reflected on the holiday’s importance in her life during a recent interview with CBS News, just ahead of the 2022 celebration.

The walking legend emphasized the magnitude of the national holiday now — not just for Black Americans — but for everyone and for freedom.

“When I was a little one and we lived in Marshall, Texas, we’d go to the fairground,” Lee recalled on celebrating June 19 as a child. “There’d be games and food and food and food. I’m here to tell you, it was like Christmas!”

Still, not every Juneteenth memory from the 94-year-old’s past is a good one. 

A White mob made Lee and her family the victims of a racist attack on the day in 1939, when they torched the future advocate’s home.

Lee was just 12-years-old at the time.

“The paper says there was some 500 folk who gathered. They drug the furniture out and burned it, burned the house too. My parents never ever talked to us about it, not ever,” the activist recalled. “They accepted what happened.”

Nevertheless, the untiring work ethic of Lee’s mother to get another home for their family inspired her. 

The freedom advocate and Nobel Peace Prize nominee now has a Juneteenth museum in the works “on her own land,” CBS News details. Its purpose is to educate attendees on the holiday’s story, and its scheduled opening is in 2024.

“People think it’s a Black thing when it’s not. It’s not a Texas thing. It’s not that,” said Lee. “Juneteenth means freedom and I mean for everybody!”

To keep up with Lee and her endeavors for the culture, follow her on Instagram. 

RELATED CONTENT: “5 Ways You And Your Family Can Celebrate Juneteenth”

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