FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The littered corner of Annie and New York in Fort Worth can’t tell tales. But, the now 90-year-old Opal Lee who once lived there can, and does, often, as part of her mission to make Juneteenth a national holiday.
“It was a neat little white cottage,” she recalls with a smile that betrays no malice, “two bedrooms, my Mother had it fixed up so nice.”
The family lived there for just three days.
“It was the 19th of June when whites began to gather across the street,” says Lee, as she gestures across the street from the now vacant lot. “There were police from Fort Worth and the county… all those people. They were 500 strong. The realtor that sold us the house went to get my father. He came home and he had a rifle. The police officer said ‘if you bust a cap, we’ll let that mob have you.’ ” And then adding, “they made no effort to dispel the mob.”
Seventy-eight years later, the incident is not just history — it is her story, and Lee shares it to convince anyone who will listen that the nation should celebrate Juneteenth as a symbol of freedom for all.
“Juneteenth needs to be a national holiday,” insists Lee. “I want you to pass on to your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren that none of us are free until we are all free.”
To call attention to her quest, Lee launched a symbolic walk to Washington, D.C. last year; walking two and a half miles morning and evening in cities across the country. The two and a half miles symbolic of the two and a half years it took for slaves in Texas to learn they had been freed.
“I’m wanting the nation to be aware that Juneteenth is a unifier–it’s not just a black thing. Slaves didn’t free themselves,” says Lee. “We ought to be able to take the arms of those who helped us– I don’t know a single Quaker –I ought to get to know one!”
Lee’s charm is infectious. But, she insists that awareness is just a start. She’s looking for change.
“Nobody’s going to give us anything! You have to work for what you want” she exclaims with a stern but loving look that must be a mandate for grandmothers everywhere, “and I’m working to make Juneteenth a national holiday!” And then there’s the smile that suggests her journey has been all the while fulfilling as well.