Saturday, June 19, 2021

Just a Little Old Lady in Tennis Shoes

Today is June 19, 2021.

For many years, I knew June 19 as the birthday of an almost lifelong friend (now, sadly, no longer with us).

As an adult, I also learned that June 19 had another meaning and another name:  Juneteenth.  Here is a brief history of Juneteenth and its meaning.

I never learned about it in school.  Surprising, perhaps, that my school system in New York City, so highly regarded in the 1950's and 1960's, didn't teach me about Juneteenth in the midst of the 1960's Civil Rights Movement.  But they never taught me about the Tulsa Race Riots, either, or so many other occurrences that Black people suffered through in their just over 400 years in our country.

Now, as of three days ago, Juneteenth, June 19, is a Federal holiday.  Its official name is not Juneteenth, but I suspect Juneteenth is going to be what people call it.

But today isn't just the story of Juneteenth, but it is also the story of 94 year Opal Lee, who watched her home destroyed, her parents' belongings burned, on June 19, 1939.  Her parent's crime?  Moving to a white neighborhood of Ft. Worth, Texas.  That lasted until a mob of some 500 whites came to teach them otherwise.

Maybe it worked in the short term, but it also spurred Opal Lee into a lifetime of teaching and activism. Here is some of her story.

In 2016, she decided to walk (at the age of 89) from Ft. Worth, Texas to Washington, DC to deliver a petition to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday.  She called herself a "little old lady in tennis shoes getting into everyone's business". (To my foreign readers, it's a long way from Ft. Worth to D.C.)

Enter the pandemic, which has uncovered so much about ourselves and our nation.  

Last year, when Juneteenth came to national prominence after the murder of George Floyd, a bill making it a  Federal holiday failed in the Senate by one vote.  This year, it passed both houses and was signed into law on Thursday.

Even the world took note.

At 94, Opal Lee doesn't seem to have slowed down much.  But at least today, June 19, 2021, she can pause (for today) to celebrate a victory, because one person, one woman, can make a difference.

I think my late friend, who was a retired teacher, would be happy reading this story.


  1. Like you, none of this was taught in school. There was a city near to where I lived in CA that has had Juneteenth celebrations for years, and I only learned that because my brother attended. We as a country still have a long way to go. And so many individuals need to make some real changes.

  2. ...often old ladies get things done!

  3. Alana, I have a degree in history, so I’m more well read than a lot of people when it comes to this country’s past. And I never heard of the Tulsa race riot or Juneteenth until quite recently.

    Good for Opal Lee.

  4. I never learned about these things in school either, what a shame. Opal Lee is one amazing woman!

  5. I never learn any thing about other people, mainly about white people and American exceptionalism. Well Hopefull we become more honest with our past and than we can heal.
    Coffee is on and stay safe

  6. As a Canadian I have an outside perspective. We are far from sin in our country, you may have heard about the mass grave of native children's bodies found at one of our residential schools. A shame for our nation. I was not taught about anything relative to those institutions. But .. I am shocked at how long such intense discrimination and outright hate is so pervasive still in your country .. the politics, the attitudes of conspiracies and ignorance of so many people is astounding. I fear for your democracy and for the good, sensible people trying to do the right thing. I truly hope there will be a permanent turn of events for the good of everyone.
    I appreciate your informative a great deal ! I hope more become aware of such amazing, steadfast people like Opal Lee.

  7. I wasn't aware of Opal Lee's story so thanks for sharing that. Far too many people are vociferous in denying our country's shameful racist past, including our last president and many of his followers.

  8. I, too, didn't know about Juneteenth until recently. Someone on Twitter called it the biggest zonk in military history. It took some explanation was to what a zonk is, but I guess it has to do with cancelling something just before it starts. Like creating a national holiday the day before.


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