Opal Lee, Grandmother of Juneteenth, moves into new house on site of burned childhood home in Texas

Opal Lee is known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth for her efforts in getting the date recognized as a national holiday.

ByDhanika Pineda, Sabina Ghebremedhin, and Armando Garcia ABCNews logo
Wednesday, June 19, 2024
Opal Lee moves into new house on site of burned childhood Texas home
Opal Lee, the 97-year-old Grandmother of Juneteenth who pushed to make it a national holiday, moved into a new house on the site of her burned childhood home in Fort Worth, Texas.

FORT WORTH, Texas -- It was June 19, 1939, when Opal Lee remembers her parents sending her to a friend's house several blocks away when an angry mob showed up at her family's home to protest Black residents moving into the Fort Worth, Texas, neighborhood. Lee was 12 years old.

That night, the mob burned down the Lee family home. It was 74 years after enslaved Black people in the U.S. found out they were freed.

Now, 85 years later, Lee, known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth for her efforts in getting the date recognized as a national holiday, has received keys to a new home built on the site of the childhood home that was reduced to ashes.

"It amazes me because we would have been good neighbors, you know," Lee told GMA3 co-anchor DeMarco Morgan during the first interview inside her new home. "They didn't see it that way," Lee said of that time during the Jim Crow era.

Lee, 97, is known for her civil rights activism and her Juneteenth appeal. In 2016, she walked 1,400 miles from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the date.

Our America: Meet Opal Lee, the grandmother of Juneteenth

From "Our America: Black Freedom" in June 2020: Opal Lee is confident that Juneteenth will finally become a national holiday across the country this year.

She found success in her efforts when President Biden signed the June 19 holiday into law in 2021. Earlier this year, Lee received the Presidential Medal of Freedom honoring her work to commemorate the end of chattel slavery in the nation. She attended the Juneteenth celebration on the White House lawn last week.

Reflecting on the legacy of her work, Lee looks to the young people to take the next steps.

"I'm wanting young people to realize that we can make a difference. And so I'm asking them to make themselves a committee of one to change somebody's mind," Lee said. "We know people who aren't on the same page will change their minds; not gonna happen in a day. You'll have to work at it. But if people have been taught to hate, they can be taught to love."

For years, she tried to find out who owned the land where her family's home was burned down. Eventually, she found out it was owned by Habitat for Humanity, an organization for which Lee had previously served on the board.

When she tried to buy it, the nonprofit declined to sell, instead giving her the land and plans for building a new home on it for free.

SEE ALSO: Opal Lee, 'grandmother of Juneteenth,' honored in state Senate

Opal Lee, the 96-year-old Texan whose efforts helped make Juneteenth a federal holiday to commemorate the end of slavery in the U.S., became only the second Black person whose portrait will hang in the state Capitol.

Now, in the new house - furnished with a mix of new and some of her own vintage pieces, decorated with handpainted pictures of Lee and her family, and completed with a fully stocked fridge - Lee says she is humbled and grateful to have the home.

"My mom would say, Baby Opal - that's what she called me - it's about time. It's about time," Lee said.

READ MORE: Juneteenth holiday federally recognized thanks in part to 95-year-old Opal Lee

Is Juneteenth a holiday? President Joe Biden signed it into federal law last year.

ABC News' Kevin Lo contributed to this report.