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President Joe Biden recognizes Juneteenth activist Opal Lee at bill signing

Opal Lee
Posted at 9:58 AM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 12:58:10-04

President Joe Biden took a moment Thursday to recognize Opal Lee, a 94-year-old woman who's been at the forefront of the fight to make Juneteenth a national holiday. 

"We're blessed to mark the day in the presence of Miss Opal Lee. As my mother would say, 'God love her,'" he said. "Miss Opal, you're incredible. Grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. You're an incredible woman, Miss Opal, you really are."

Before speaking, Biden walked down to the audience to personally thank and acknowledge her.

Lee has been raising awareness about Juneteenth and advocating for the day to be a federal holiday for years.

It all started in 2016 when she set off on a 1,400-mile walk from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C. to make her case to Congress.

She's made other trips to D.C. since. And, every year, walks 2.5 miles to mark the 2.5 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and when slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free. 

Yesterday, the president made sure she was right beside him as he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, and gave her the first pen he used to turn the bill into law.

Before the historic signing, Lee took part in a virtual event hosted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health where she said this is just the beginning. 

"We don't want them to forget. You know, they've got lots on their plate. And I don't want people to think Juneteenth is just one day," said Lee. "We have too much to do. I even advocate that we do Juneteenth, that we celebrate freedom from the 19th of June to the Fourth of July, because we weren't free on the Fourth of July 1776."

Lee also commended the Black Lives Matter movement and encouraged young people to keep fighting for racial justice and equity.

This story was originally published by Jay Strubberg and Aida Mogos at Newsy.