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After decades, US activist Opal Lee’s Juneteenth dream becomes reality


After decades, US activist Opal Lee’s Juneteenth dream becomes reality
Opal Lee, 94, was at the centre of a campaign to recognise Juneteenth as a national holiday in the US. (Getty)

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Washington – Opal Lee was 12 when a mob of white supremacists vandalised and set fire to her family’s home in Fort Worth, Texas.

Helpless, she watched her home burn to the ground as police stood by, doing nothing to stop the violence.

The attack happened in 1939 on June 19, a symbolic date that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

Known as Juneteenth, the date would leave a lasting impression on Lee, who channelled her experiences of racism into a life of teaching, activism and campaigning.

“The fact that [the attack] happened on the 19th day of June has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival,” she told Fort Worth Star-Telegram newspaper in February.

“It should be a unifier. The slaves didn’t free themselves.”

For decades, Lee worked tirelessly to get Juneteenth recognised as a national holiday in the US.

Now aged 94, Lee has finally got her day off.

‘We waited so long’

Last Thursday, US President Joe Biden signed a bill into law to make June 19 a national holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved black Americans.

Juneteenth marks the day on June 19, 1865 when enslaved black people in Texas learned they had been freed. They were among the last to be told the news, two months after the end of the Civil War.

The liberation came more than two-and-half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation during the war, declaring all enslaved people in the rebellious southern states to be free. (BBC)