Jun 17, 2022 - Politics

Juneteenth holiday has Texas roots

Opal Lee was in Washington last year for the bill signing that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
Opal Lee was in Washington last year for the bill signing that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Opal Lee worked for decades to get June 19 recognized for what it is — America's true Independence Day.

Why it matters: Lee organized Juneteenth events in Fort Worth and marched to Washington, D.C., in 2016 to push for Juneteenth to be made a federal holiday.

  • President Biden signed a bill last year making it official.

Don't forget: Though the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in 1863, that news did not reach Texas until Union soldiers arrived in June 1865 in Galveston.

  • Texas was the last Confederate state with institutional slavery.

Yes, but: Until last year, Juneteenth was largely a regional holiday.

By the numbers: Approximately six in 10 Americans say they know "a lot" or "some" about Juneteenth, compared to less than four in 10 in May 2021.

  • 63% of Americans also say Juneteenth should be taught in public schools, and 15% say it should not.

Flashback: When Lee was 12, her family moved into a Fort Worth neighborhood where Black families weren't welcome. On June 19, 1939, just days after the move, a mob set fire to their home.

  • Lee grew up to become a school teacher, school counselor and a food pantry leader.
  • She organized local Juneteenth walks for decades before deciding in 2016 to trek to Washington, D.C. and ask President Obama to make Juneteenth a national holiday. She was 89 at the time.

Zoom in: A national Juneteenth Museum will be built in Fort Worth and will honor Lee.

What she's saying: "The fact is none of us are free till we're all free. Knowing that slaves didn't get the word for two and a half years after the emancipation, can't you imagine how those people felt?" Lee told the New York Times.

What you can do: Juneteenth shouldn't be celebrated as just another day off work. It should be about learning the history of slavery, Laquan Austion, founder of Washington, D.C.-based The Juneteenth Foundation, tells Axios.

  • "Definitely go out, be an ally, be an asset. But don't be tone-deaf and try to hijack it as your own. Don't try to commercialize it," Austion said.
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