How Juneteenth Became A Federal Holiday

photo of opal lee
Leslie Grover-Taylor
April 19, 2024

Opal Lee was 12 when her family home was torched to the ground by white neighbors in 1939. Upset a Black family dared to exercise their freedom to settle in a white area, angry mobs attacked. Thankfully, her family lost only their land and not their lives.

Decades later, Lee was at a local Juneteenth parade when the childhood trauma haunted her again. After emancipation was announced in June 1865, waves of anti-Black violence from whites took Black communities by storm. Lee knew what that felt like. A hurtful memory became a powerful source of motivation.

Lee used her story to help get Juneteenth declared a federal holiday. She walked over 1400 miles beginning in 2016, stopping to share her experiences. 

Now, all of us can celebrate the independence from enslavement we fought so hard to achieve. But something else happened that Lee never dreamed of.

As she told her story, others were inspired. When the community heard her story, they fought for her, and Lee was gifted back the land stolen from her family.

Lee’s story reminds us of the power of our stories to build community and inspire action. Community sustains us. All we got is each other, and in each other we’ve got a heck of a lot.

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