‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ Opal Lee Gifted New House, Built Where Her Family Home Was Burned Down By Racist Mob 85 Years Ago

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – DECEMBER 15: Opal Lee attends Forbes x Know Your Value 50 Over 50 on December 15, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Juneteenth was even more special this year for Opal Lee, affectionately known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” The 97-year-old was handed the keys to her newly constructed house last week, built on the very land where her family’s home in Fort Worth, Texas, was burned down by a racist mob over 80 years ago.

The house, a product of contributions from various local Texas organizations, including Trinity Habitat for Humanity and Texas Capital, was given to Lee for $10. History Maker Homes constructed the house, while JCPenney furnished it, as reported by CBS News. This gesture holds immense historical significance, highlighting past injustices and the present recognition of her efforts.

“With tears of sadness for past atrocities and tears of joy for this momentous occasion, we are humbled and honored to welcome our friend Opal home. There truly is no place like home,” said Trinity Habitat for Humanity CEO Gage Yager, a friend of Lee. 

Lee’s journey to reclaim her family’s land was long and arduous. For years, she attempted to purchase the land and rebuild their home, only to discover that Trinity Habitat for Humanity   had bought it. Yager, unaware of the land’s history until Lee informed him, was moved to assist.

This Juneteenth marked 85 years since when white rioters set fire to the Lee family’s home in 1939. Lee recounted to Variety how her father was threatened by the mob, which the police could not control. Despite the adversity, Lee believed in the importance of opportunity and community, saying “If they had given us an opportunity to stay there and be their neighbors, they would have found out we didn’t want any more than what they had — a decent place to stay, jobs that paid, [to be] able to go to school in the neighborhood, even if it was a segregated school. We would have made good neighbors, but they didn’t give us an opportunity. And I felt like everybody needs an opportunity.”

As she received her keys, Lee expressed her vision for the home, declaring, “Everybody will know that this is going to be a happy place.” Her perseverance and advocacy were instrumental in Juneteenth’s recognition as a federal holiday. In 2016, Lee embarked on a 1,400-mile journey from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the holiday. Her efforts culminated on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed Juneteenth into law, acknowledging the bipartisan support and the profound impact of the holiday.

President Biden remarked on the significance of the moment, saying, “I have to say to you, I have only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president — not because I did it, you did it, Democrats and Republicans. It’s an enormous, enormous honor.”

During the ceremony last week marking the special occasion, Myra Savage, board president of Trinity Habitat for Humanity, told Lee, “Thank you for being a living example of what your home represents today, which is community, restoration, hope, and light.”

According to The Associated Press, Lee was so eager to move from the Fort Worth home she’s lived in for over h to the new house that she planned just to bring her toothbrush.

“I just so want this community and others to work together to make this the best city, best state, and the be

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