A retired educator and counselor, Opal Lee has dedicated much of her life to preserving the history of Juneteenth. Fondly known as Ms. Opal, she gained national attention in 2016, when at 89, she began a 1,400-mile trek from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to petition for the recognition of Juneteenth as a national holiday.

Her annual 2.5-mile walks in major cities — the distance a reminder of the 2.5 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed the enslaved in the South — were lauded by President Joe Biden, who on June 17, 2021, signed the law making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

“Over the course of decades, she’s made it her mission to see that this day came,” Biden said. “It was almost a singular mission. She’s walked miles and miles, literally and figuratively, to bring attention to Juneteenth.”

She is the oldest living board member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation. At 95 years old, Ms. Opal also leads the Annual Fort Worth Juneteenth Celebration and the urban farming project proudly named Opal’s Farm.

In January 2022, Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas and 33 members of Congress sent a letter to the Norwegian Nobel Committee urging them to consider Lee for the Nobel Peace Prize. “As an advocate,” the letter noted, “Ms. Lee’s hopes to establish Juneteenth as a national holiday went far beyond just recognizing the day that the final enslaved people were notified of their freedom. It is also a symbol of her hope that we as Americans can come together and unify against social issues that are plagues on our nation such as homelessness, education inequality, and food insecurity to name a few.”

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