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Thu, 10.07.1926

Opal Lee, Teacher, and Juneteenth Activist born

Opal Lee

*Opal Lee was born on this date in 1926. She is a Black retired teacher, counselor, and activist in the movement to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday.

She was born in Marshall, Texas, and was the oldest of three children of Mattie (Broadous) and Otis Flake. When she was ten, she and her family moved to Fort Worth, Texas. The Flakes later moved to the 7th Ward of Fort Worth, Texas (also known as Terrell Heights). In 1939, when she was twelve years old, her parents bought a house in the 900 block of East Annie Street, then a mostly white area. On June 19, 1939, 500 white rioters vandalized and burned down her home. Recalling it years later, she said, "The fact that it happened on June 19 has spurred me to make people understand that Juneteenth is not just a festival."

Opal Flake attended I.M. Terrell High School, Fort Worth's first black high school. She graduated high school in 1943 at the age of 16. She married, and the couple had four children; they divorced after five years. In 1952, she graduated from Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, receiving her bachelor's degree in elementary education. She later attended North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), earning her master's degree in Counseling and Guidance. After receiving her master's degree, Lee returned to Fort Worth, where she was an educator for the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) for fifteen years and a home school counselor for nine years before retiring in 1977.

In 1967, she married Dale Lee when she was a teacher at McCoy Elementary School, and he was the principal at Morningside Elementary. She was also a member of the Fort Worth-Tarrant County Community Action Agency (CAA) board, Evans Avenue Business Association board, Tarrant County Habitat for Humanity board, and Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity. Following her retirement from teaching in 1976, Lee became involved in Fort Worth community causes. Unity Unlimited Inc.'s nonprofit organization has been in operation since 1994.

Lee campaigned decades to make Juneteenth a federal holiday by leading 2.5 miles (4.0 km) walks each year. At the age of 89, she conducted a symbolic walk from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., leaving in September 2016 and arriving in Washington in January 2017. She has not only marched in Texas but also in Fort Smith and Little Rock, Arkansas; Las Vegas, Nevada; Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Atlanta, Georgia; Selma, Alabama; and the Carolinas. She said, "It's going to be a national holiday, I have no doubt about it.

My point is let's make it a holiday in my lifetime." In June 2021, at 94, her efforts succeeded as a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden. She was an honored guest at the bill signing ceremony. Lee was the 2021 "Texan of the Year" by The Dallas Morning News for her activism on behalf of Black Texans. She's in the 2021 book Unsung Heroes for operating a food bank, farm, and community garden throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee is also a founding board member of Transform 1012 N. Main Street, a coalition of Fort Worth nonprofit and arts organizations working to turn a former Ku Klux Klan auditorium into the Fred Rouse Center and Museum for Arts and Community Healing. Rouse, a Black man, was lynched by a Fort Worth mob in 1921. Transform 1012 N. Main Street was formed in 2019 and announced the acquisition of the building in January 2022.

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