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Happy Juneteenth!

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 6/14/2023

Opal Lee at Juneteenth Legacy Project Headquarters in Galveston, Texas, May 2021; Erika Harrison, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Opal Lee, often described as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” is an American activist and educator known for her efforts to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday in the United States. Born on Oct. 7, 1926, in Marshall, Texas, Lee has dedicated her life to promoting equality and civil rights.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the date Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, bringing news of the Emancipation Proclamation—more than two years after it was signed by President Abraham Lincoln. The news reaching Texas effectively marked the end of slavery in the United States. Although Juneteenth has been celebrated by Black communities for many years, Lee sought to raise its prominence and ensure its recognition across the nation.

In 2016, at the age of 89, Lee embarked on a mission to make Juneteenth a national holiday. She started by walking from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about Juneteenth. Her journey, known as the “Walk to Freedom,” covered approximately 1,400 miles and garnered significant media attention. She continued to advocate for Juneteenth and tirelessly lobbied Congress to recognize it as a national holiday.

Lee’s efforts gained traction over the years, and on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law, making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Lee was present at the signing ceremony, and her tireless work played a significant role in elevating the visibility and importance of Juneteenth as a national commemoration of freedom and emancipation.

Opal Lee's advocacy for Juneteenth has been instrumental in promoting awareness about the historical significance of this day and its continued relevance in the fight for racial equality. Her passion and determination have inspired countless individuals and communities to honor Juneteenth and its historical legacy.

For more information and resources for your classroom, visit these links:

This lesson plan from PBS.org is designed for grades 6-12 and provides students with a history of Juneteenth and why it's now a national holiday.