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Monday, July 15, 2024

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The Grandmother of Juneteenth

By Theodore Bryan, Court House

To the Editor:

I can only imagine the fear and confusion 12-year-old Opal Lee experienced. Her family had recently moved to a predominantly white section of Fort Lee, Texas. Among their first visitors were two men who warned them to be gone by the next evening. Her parents prudently took their family to relatives. The next evening their new home was ransacked and burned. The family found another place to stay and did not fully explain to their children the why of what had taken place. However, Opal Lee always remembered the date of their misfortune. It was June 19, 1939, a day of celebration for black Texans.

On this date in 1865 the Union Army entered Galveston, Texas, and informed the citizens, black and white, that the Civil War was over and with it the practice of slavery in America. By the following year black Texans were celebrating that date as the true Independence Day for Black Americans.

In the years that followed Opal Lee earned a master’s degree and was an elementary school teacher and counselor. She became involved in community service and civil rights organizations. During this time, the celebration of Juneteenth spread to include a large number of states. Opal Lee became an integral part of the movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday. In 2016 at the age of 89 she began a walking campaign from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C. The campaign spread to include several cities with Ms. Lee leading two and a half mile walks. These walks symbolized the two and a half years between the time that President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and the time the Black people of Texas learned that they were free. President Biden signed the law making this date a national holiday on June 17, 2021, with Opal Lee at his side.

We can be assured that on Juneteenth 2024 Opal Lee will be leading a walk in the name of freedom and independence.

As a postscript, Habitat for Humanity is building a new home for Ms. Lee at the same location of the home her family lost 85 years ago.

THEODORE BRYAN

Court House

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