Marking Black History Month's End, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Opal Lee Says There's Still Much Work to Be Done

Opal Lee next to Kamala Harris and community/familyOpal Lee next to Kamala Harris and community/family
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Congress has nominated 95-year-old "Grandmother of Juneteenth" Opal Lee for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize after her decades of community-facing work.

"Grandmother of Juneteenth” Opal Lee has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Congress.

In February, 34 Congress members sent a letter to the Nobel Prize Nomination Committee to nominate Lee for the 2022 prize.

Lee, 95, was the front-runner behind the push to name Juneteenth a national holiday.

Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, is a holiday to commemorate the anniversary of African Americans who were enslaved in Galveston, Texas, learning of their freedom over two years after Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.

Starting in 1980, the day was celebrated by individual states, but was often overlooked as an official federal holiday until 2021. 

To push for this to change, Lee — then 90 — walked a whopping 1,400 miles from her home to Washington, D.C.

Afterward, Lee celebrated with Fort Worth and five other cities across the country by walking a parade-style 2.5 miles called "Opal's Walk for Juneteenth."

After passing unanimously in the Senate, the bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday passed in the House 415-14, leading President Biden to sign the day as a federal holiday — the first to be added since Martin Luther King Jr. Day — with Lee right by his side. 

"I regret that my grandchildren aren't here, because this is a really, really, really important moment in our history,” Biden said after the signing.

“By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history -- and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we've come (and) the distance we have to travel," he said.

Having been born in Texas in 1926 and raised there in the ensuing decades, Lee has publicly shared stories of her and her family combating violence and active racism. 

Lee's push for equity and community has continued to present-day. Lee has a Fort Worth farm in her name where volunteers grow food for families who are food insecure. 

And there in Fort Worth, the local museum dedicated to Juneteenth will soon be accompanied by a nation museum dedicated to the holiday. According to Unity Unlimited, Sable Brands LLC has plans to build the National Juneteenth Museum in Fort Worth starting in Spring 2022. Completion is estimated to take about two years. 

"I want it here," said Lee to local outlet WFAA. "I want something from all 50 States in the National Juneteenth Museum, because freedom means so many different things to so many different people."

Dione Sims, Lee’s granddaughter, who traveled to Africa to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award from the global organization AFRIMA in Nigeria in her grandmother’s honor, spoke about the plethora of good Lee has done for her widespread community.

"The Juneteenth holiday work is just one layer of my grandmother's work. She has buckets full of things she has done in our community over the years,” she said. 

This longstanding history of community focus is what led Texas Congressman Marc Veasey to support Lee’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

"I have been proud to call Ms. Lee a friend and mentor for nearly my whole life and was honored to work alongside her to finally get Juneteenth made into a national holiday last year," Veasey said to WFAA.

According to WFAA, Lee has remained humble along the way, and of her Lifetime Achievement award said, "If we don't help each other, what good is living.” 

"I cannot think of a better person who has constantly fought for justice, and that is why I am nominating her to receive this year's Nobel Peace Prize,” say Veasey.

On Monday, Lee celebrated Black History Month at the White House. She was invited to attend the event by Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. 

"I’m also proud to be joined by Opal Lee, we made the first federal holiday of the Juneteenth holiday in the last 40 years… good to see you Ms. Lee," President Biden said.

"I’m just delighted that they invited me," Lee said in an interview with FOX4 before the event.

"I’d like to be able to say thank you for the holiday and to let the public know that this is not the end of it, but we’ve got work to do still," she said of what she'd tell Biden if they were able to speak at the event. "There’s still joblessness, homelessness, healthcare, climate change… All of these things have to be addressed. And education, education, education!"

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