At the age of 95, Fort Worth’s civic leader Opal Lee is a vision of dignity. Her hair is a silver crown. And when you talk about life in Texas or the meaning of Juneteenth, wisdom and knowledge flow like a continuous flow.
From 2016 to 2021, Lee traveled to Washington several times to encourage politicians to make Juneteenth a national holiday. She led annual walking tours along the highways of America, and collected nearly two million signatures on her Juneteenth petition.
dreams come true. Last year, President Joe Biden, inspired by Lee’s efforts, signed into law June 19 a federal holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought news of freedom to the enslaved people of Texas, two years and six months after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished black slavery. However, Juneteenth is the happy touchstone that marks the end of slavery in the collective American heart.
After six years of marching, Opal Lee, who was 2021 Dallas Morning News Texas year, a symbol of peace, goodwill and freedom. People all over the world call her “Juneteenth Granny”.
In 2020, I was commissioned to write a children’s autobiography in a picture book of mine. We had a live chat in December of that year. When the interview ended, I understood why Juneteenth is so important to every American. Here are five lessons I learned from my Juneteenth grandmother.
As it was for Texan families in 1866 on Galveston’s first Jubilee, one year after the good news arrived, today remains an occasion to remember the past and express gratitude for the ordeals that survived. It is also a time to honor the history makers and predecessors whose courage paved the way to the present day.
For mother Opal, this means remembering pioneers such as Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr., but also closer influences such as her maternal grandfather, Zach Broadus, who gave her a love of books, history and maintaining family ties.
Mother Opal spoke of the raucous jubilation that surely prevailed throughout Texas in 1865, after blacks had spent 200 years in the auction yard. And while the holiday inspires images of such overwhelming joy, she said, “Juneteenth is a day of music and praise.”
Juneteenth organizers tend to invite bands or play a variety of music from Beyoncé to Bobby Rush and Willie Nelson. The quick-witted activist laughed and said, “Twerking youth. I do sacred dance!”
There was one aspect of the Juneteenth celebrations I didn’t want to overlook.
“Please tell me about the brisket and roast,” I insisted.
“Child,” replied Lee, “Juneteenth is the festival of banquets and fellowship.”
From the first celebration of Juneteenth in Galveston until now, most Juneteenth hosts prepare the vibrant red foods that black Americans forbade during their slavery. In the early 1900s, Juneteenth guests celebrated with tangy ribs, strawberry pie, and a bottled Big Red Soda in Waco. But in recent years, with so many food options and Food TV, Juneteenth tables have also been decorated with vegan pies, fancy pies, and craft cocktails.
When asked about her ability to form close-knit alliances in order to make Juneteenth a national holiday, Mother Opal said a wise elder gave her an example in building friendships outside of her neighbourhood. This landmark was the late Lenora Rolla, a historian who founded the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society.
When we talked about the effect of mentorship, Mother Opal said, “Juneteenth is a time to listen to adults.”
Wherever they appear, Opal Lee welcomes children. Talk to them and read to them in schools and public libraries
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She said, “If we want the world to live in good health and to the full, we must make time for the children. Listen to them.”
As our interview wrapped up, I asked one last question: What should people understand about this holiday?
“No matter who you are, Juneteenth is a uniform who represents freedom,” she said.
Those last words were a lamp to guide my way. Right away, I knew what to write for children about Grandma Opal and the new national holiday. Juneteenth largest of Texas bands sing and dance. Juneteenth is the rise of freedom, freedom for all.
Alice Fay Duncan is the author of Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of Gwenth’s Grandmother. I wrote this for the Dallas Morning News.
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