November 20 proclaimed ‘Opal Lee Day,’ named after grandmother of Juneteenth

The Empowerment Community Development Corporation hosted Opal Lee in Tyler at the Rose Garden...
The Empowerment Community Development Corporation hosted Opal Lee in Tyler at the Rose Garden Center this afternoon. A Marshall, Texas native and the grandmother of Juneteenth -- Lee -- continues to advocate for social justice and equality around the nation at the age of 96.(Willie Downs)
Published: Nov. 20, 2022 at 8:54 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2022 at 11:24 AM CST
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TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - An East Texas native known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth” made a special visit to Tyler this afternoon.

East Texas Weekend’s Willie Downs spoke with Ms. Opal Lee about her vision for change.

“And I thought, if a little old lady in tennis shoes walked from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. -- 1,400 miles, somebody would take notice,” says 2022 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Opal Lee.

The Empowerment Community Development Corporation hosted Opal Lee in Tyler at the Rose Garden Center this afternoon.

A Marshall, Texas native and the grandmother of Juneteenth -- Lee -- continues to advocate for social justice and equality around the nation at the age of 96.

In 2016 at the age of 89 years old, she started walking towards D.C. from Texas with a goal of getting 100,000 signatures on a petition for Congress to officially name Juneteenth a national holiday.

“We got 1,500,000 signatures and took them to Congress and we were prepared to take that many more when we got the call to go to the White House to see the President sign that bill into law and I was humbled, I was happy...I wanted to do a holy dance,” says Lee.

June 17, 1865, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to ensure enslaved people were freed. During that period of time, enslaved people in Texas remained enslaved despite slaves being freed. In the years since the arrival of federal troops in Texas, African American people have been celebrating June 17th, known as Juneteenth.

Lee said as she was standing next to President Biden, she was overwhelmed with joy.

“I was thinking about all the people...all the people who have been affected, because even slavery ended we got all kinds of things that keep us from being free,” says Lee. “And people, so many of us are aware we’re not free until we’re all free. And it just felt like we are on our way...we’re on our way to being free.”

Executive director of Empowerment Community Development Corporation, LaToyia Jordan, says this opportunity puts her at a loss for words.

“I’m just honored to be able to be in her presence today and to be able to speak with her and listen to her wisdom and just knowledge and everything that she has done for the country,” says Jordan.

Jordan says she is impacted by the way Lee doesn’t give up despite her age.

“That just states that it doesn’t matter how old you are, if you have a dream, or you want to do something, you just keep doing it until it comes to pass,” says Lee.

The City of Tyler proclaimed today, November 20th, 2022, as “Opal Lee Day.”