Opal Lee: inspiring champion of Juneteenth

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jaliil Smith, Team Hill Special Observance Council

HILL AIR FORCE BASE – Opal Lee, a tireless advocate and community leader, has played a pivotal role in raising awareness and advancing the recognition of Juneteenth as a federal holiday in the United States.

Deriving its name from combining "June" and "nineteenth", it is celebrated on the anniversary of the order issued by Major General Gordon Granger on June 19, 1865, proclaiming freedom for slaves in Texas, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, declaring freedom for enslaved people in Confederate states.

Lee was born in Marshall, Texas, in 1927, at a time when racial segregation and discrimination were deeply entrenched in American society. Growing up in the era of Jim Crow laws, she experienced firsthand the inequalities faced by African Americans. Her early encounters with racism fueled her determination to work towards change and fight for justice.

Advocacy for Juneteenth started when she participated in her first Juneteenth parade in 1979.

Since then, she has dedicated her life to raising awareness about the holiday and its historical significance, by embarking on a mission to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday, walking symbolically from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., in 2016 to deliver a petition to the White House.

Her efforts and unwavering commitment have garnered significant attention and support for Juneteenth, becoming widely known as the "Grandmother of Juneteenth" and has been honored with numerous awards for her activism. Her work has helped elevate the visibility of Juneteenth, leading to increased recognition at both the state and federal levels.

Lee’s relentless advocacy efforts bore fruit when, in 2021, Juneteenth was officially designated as a federal holiday in the United States. This historic achievement marked a significant milestone in recognizing the importance of Juneteenth and its place in American history.

It was Lee's persistence and dedication that played a pivotal role in bringing about this landmark recognition.

Her determination and passion serve as an inspiration to individuals of all ages, races, and backgrounds. Through her activism, she has encouraged dialogue, education, and engagement surrounding racial equality and the ongoing struggle against systemic racism.

Today, Lee continues her activism, focusing on expanding educational initiatives and ensuring Juneteenth is celebrated with the reverence it deserves. Her goal is to promote understanding, unity, and progress, fostering an inclusive society that values the history and contributions of African Americans.

Her lifelong dedication to Juneteenth and the fight for equality has left an indelible mark on American history and the ongoing pursuit of social justice. Her unwavering commitment, resilience, and tireless efforts have played a significant role in bringing about national recognition for Juneteenth.

Lee serves as a shining example of how one individual's determination can create profound change and inspire a nation. Her legacy will continue to inspire generations to come as we strive for a more equitable and inclusive society.