'Grandmother of Juneteenth' leads hundreds on freedom walk in Dallas (2024)

DALLAS — Opal Lee walked outside and waved. That was all it took. Crowds clamored for a glimpse. People shouted her name and snapped photographs as television crews aimed their cameras at her.

Wearing sunglasses, a blue T-shirt and red tennis shoes, Lee led hundreds Wednesday on her annual Opal’s Walk for Freedom, a 2.5-mile trek to celebrate Juneteenth.

This year’s walk moved from Lee’s hometown of Fort Worth to Dallas, but the 97-year-old “grandmother of Juneteenth” drew the same big crowds and adoration. Supporters wore T-shirts and carried signs bearing her image, and many clapped and waved as she walked by.

Juneteenth recognizes the day in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved people of their freedom, about 2 ½ years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“July 4 freed the land,” Lee said before the walk. “But Juneteenth freed the people.”

More about Juneteenth

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  • Meet the family who helped bring Juneteenth celebrations to Seattle 40 years ago
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  • When Juneteenth was just ours: Reflecting on the national recognition of a holiday that was once just for Black folks
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  • If you’re not descended from slavery, how should you spend Juneteenth? (2022)

Black Americans, especially in Texas, have celebrated the day for decades, but interest in the holiday skyrocketed in recent years. In 2016, Lee made her way from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., walking 2 ½ miles in several cities along the way to represent the 2 ½ years it took for news of emancipation to reach Galveston. In 2021, President Joe Biden, with Lee at his side, signed into law a bill declaring Juneteenth a national holiday.

Growing up, Tiffany Weaver, 45, said she celebrated the holiday with friends and family eating barbecue and playing outside. This year, she joined Lee’s walk, which began at the African American Museum in Dallas’ Fair Park.

Weaver, who lives in Dallas, said she loves that Juneteenth is now celebrated on a larger scale.

“We weren’t free until we were all free,” she said. “This has been a long time coming.”

Stanton Brown, 32, of McKinney, who brought his infant and 4-year-old daughters to the walk, said he long knew about Juneteenth but only began celebrating the day in recent years.

“Freedom is really a mindset,” Brown said. “I want to honor the people who came before me and fought for freedom. I’m here because of them.”

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As they walked, marchers clasped hands and some sang “This Little Light of Mine.” Parents pushed young children in strollers or carried them on shoulders, and Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders walked alongside marching band drummers and members of a Girl Scouts troop.

Traditional African dancers and drummers lined the route and walked next to Lee, flanked by Fort Worth’s Miss Juneteenth and a cluster of police officers.

Lee, who grew up in Texas, has recalled celebrating Juneteenth by picnicking with her family, first in Marshall and later in Fort Worth. In 1939, when she was 12, a mob of white supremacists set fire to her family’s home in Fort Worth and destroyed it. Lee and her family were forced to flee. The event shaped her life as an educator and activist.

Lee received a new home this month, courtesy of the community, on the same lot.

This year’s walk moved to Dallas to highlight the role Juneteenth has on other U.S. cities, Lee’s granddaughter, Dione Sims said. Cities around the world planned their own walks, including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City and Tokyo. Next year, the march will return to Fort Worth before heading to Washington, D.C., in 2026.

On Wednesday, Lee, who rode in a golf cart for part of the walk, said her work is far from over, and she urged supporters to tackle homelessness and climate change.

“If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love,” she said. “We are all our brother’s keeper. It behooves us to act like it.”

Sarah Bahari

'Grandmother of Juneteenth' leads hundreds on freedom walk in Dallas (2024)

FAQs

'Grandmother of Juneteenth' leads hundreds on freedom walk in Dallas? ›

The grandmother of Juneteenth is 97 years old. But Fort Worth activist Opal Lee still led hundreds of North Texans in a two-and-a-half mile walk to commemorate Juneteenth. Lee said Juneteenth is a day to honor freedom. “July 4 freed the land, but Juneteenth freed the people,” Lee said.

Who is known as the grandmother of Juneteenth? ›

Opal Lee, the Grandmother of Juneteenth, leads annual Walk for Freedom - CBS News.

What is the meaning behind Juneteenth? ›

“Today is a celebration of the liberation of the slaves in African American history in Texas,” explained Bishop Marcus Collins from the Alexander Temple. Juneteenth celebrations date back to the 1800s, but this was Great Falls' third annual celebration, and it continues to grow and evolve every year.

Who started Juneteenth? ›

Formerly enslaved people in Galveston rejoiced after General Order No. 3. One year later, on June 19, 1866, freedmen in Texas organized the first of what became annual commemorations of "Jubilee Day." Early celebrations were used as political rallies to give voting instructions to newly freed African Americans.

Why is it called Juneteenth and not June 19th? ›

Juneteenth is a combination of the words June and nineteenth. It commemorates the day more than two months after the end of the Civil War – and more than two years after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation – when enslaved Black Americans in Galveston, Texas, were informed of their freedom.

Who is the first lady of Juneteenth? ›

Opal Lee (born October 7, 1926) is an American retired teacher, counselor, and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally-recognized holiday. She is often described as the "grandmother of Juneteenth".

What is the new name for Juneteenth? ›

June 19 marks the third consecutive year of Juneteenth as a federally recognized United States holiday. Also known as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day or America's second Independence Day, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. after the Civil War.

Is it okay to say "Happy Juneteenth"? ›

It's typical to wish people a “Happy Juneteenth” or “Happy Teenth," according to Alan Freeman, a comedian organizing a Juneteenth comedy festival in Galveston, Texas for the second straight year.

Which food is traditionally eaten at a Juneteenth celebration? ›

Summer fruits like strawberries and watermelon, for example are in peak season during Juneteenth. Red drinks like hibiscus tea and strawberry sodas are customary at Juneteenth celebrations. Other foods you'll likely see red velvet cake and, of course, barbecue.

Was Texas the last state to free slaves? ›

While Texas was the last Confederate state where enslaved people officially gained their freedom, there were holdouts elsewhere in the country.

Why do we eat red food on Juneteenth? ›

The unique Juneteenth drink, along with numerous other red-hued foods and beverages, symbolizes the bloodshed and the profound sacrifices made by former enslaved Black Americans, according to food historian Adrian E Miller.

When did slavery start? ›

Slavery was institutionalized by the time the first civilizations emerged (such as Sumer in Mesopotamia, which dates back as far as 3500 BC). Slavery features in the Mesopotamian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1750 BC), which refers to it as an established institution.

Was Juneteenth really the end of slavery? ›

Juneteenth is neither the beginning nor the end of something,” Mauldin said. “The end of the Civil War and the ending of slavery didn't happen overnight and was a lot more like a jagged edge than a clean cut.”

When were the last slaves freed? ›

Juneteenth honors the date, June 19, 1865, when the last Confederate community of enslaved Americans in Galveston, Texas, received word that they had been freed from bondage.

What did slaves do after they were freed? ›

Historical Context. With the end of slavery, newly freed people needed jobs. A majority of freedmen and women drew up contracts with the plantation owners and became employees of their former owners.

What does the white star on the Juneteenth flag symbolize? ›

The five-pointed star refers both to Texas (nicknamed the "Lone Star state") and to the "freedom of African Americans in all 50 states".

Who is the father of Juneteenth? ›

This resolution recognizes former Texas State Representative Al Edwards as the father of Juneteenth and shows appreciation for the successful passage of Texas House Bill 1016, which made Texas the first State to recognize Juneteenth (June 19) as an official State holiday.

Who is Opal Lee in Texas? ›

Forth Worth activist and grandmother of Juneteenth Opal Lee led North Texans in a 2.5-mile walk to commemorate the end of slavery in Texas after the Civil War.

How many children does Opal Lee have? ›

The destruction of her home on Juneteenth ignited her lifelong activism. Remarkably, over 80 years later, her family home was returned to her. Opal attended Wiley College and worked several jobs to help pay tuition and support her 4 children. In 1952, she earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education.

Where does Opal Lee live now? ›

"Grandmother of Juneteenth" Opal Lee moves into new home on family's former lot in Fort Worth - CBS Texas.

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