Opal Lee led a Change.org petition with over 1.6 million signatures – endorsed by Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Sean Combs and more – calling for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday. (photos courtesy of Opal Lee, Change.org)
WASHINGTON, DC — 94-year-old Ms. Opal Lee has helped make history today, as President Biden signed into law a bill that will make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Opal, a social impact leader from Fort Worth, Texas, has been leading the fight to make Juneteenth a federal holiday for years, organizing an annual walk to raise awareness about Juneteenth and rallying over 1.6 million signatures on a Change.org petition demanding lawmakers make Juneteenth a holiday.
With President Biden’s signature today, Juneteenth will be the first federal holiday created by Congress since 1983, when lawmakers established Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“There is profound weight and profound power” in recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday, President Biden said today at the White House. “A holiday that will join the others of our national celebrations…. that doesn’t just celebrate the past, but calls us to action.” President Biden also personally thanked Opal, who was present at the signing ceremony and received one of the pens President Biden used to sign the measure into law.
Opal Lee has been cited by lawmakers as a major reason for the legislation’s passage after years of tireless campaigning. In 2019, Miss Opal started a Change.org petition which now has over 1.6 million signatures and counting.
“We’ve waited so long and worked so hard to see Juneteenth a national holiday, and here it is,” Opal Lee said. “I’m on top of the world!”
Earlier this week Sen. Ron Johnson, who had previously been the Senate blocker for the bill, dropped his opposition after Opal galvanized her supporters in a personal video to him. And twice over the last year Opal delivered petition signatures in person to Congress with the support of INVNT Group, including the offices of Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX). All three supported her push and voted to pass the legislation.
“Juneteenth is the oldest celebration of the end of slavery in the US, and it should have been a national public holiday long ago. But we got it done,” said Senator Smith in a release. “I want to thank Miss Opal Lee, who walked across this country to raise support for Juneteenth as a national holiday.”
Opal said her goal the entire campaign has been to help unify the country.
“My goal with this petition and my walk is to show the Congress and the President that I am not alone in my desire to see national recognition of a day to celebrate ‘Freedom for All’,” Opal wrote on her petition.
In 2016, Opal, a scion in her community and a former elementary school teacher, started her campaign for Juneteenth to be named a national U.S. holiday. Then 90 years old, she walked from her home in Texas to Washington, D.C. Her “Walk Across America” in 2017 made national headlines. She did it again in Summer 2019, and in a pandemic-friendly caravan in 2020. She plans to do it again this Saturday in Texas, this time in celebration.
Opal’s petition on Change.org has now become one of the largest petition victories in 2021, and one of the largest petition victories in Change.org’s history. Opal’s petition, with more than 1.6 million signers, was endorsed by Usher, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, Sybrina Fulton (the mother of Trayvon Martin), Jennifer Lopez, Meek Mill, Nicole Scherzinger, Shawn Mendes, and the Jonas Brothers, along with companies like Virgin Hotels and Vevo.
“Over the last year it’s been pure joy to watch how the Change.org community has mobilized behind Ms. Opal’s efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday. From a petition that started out with a few thousand signatures to a petition that has grown to over 1.5 million signers, Ms. Opal has created history on Change.org,” said Mike Jones, Managing Director of Campaigns at Change.org. “From delivering petition signatures to Congress to getting endorsements from celebrities, Ms. Opal’s petition has reached every corner of American culture and politics. And it has shown how true movements for change extend far beyond the computer screen, and reach the hearts of people everywhere.”
For those who want to follow Ms. Opal’s journey directly or donate to help her keep fighting, please visit https://www.opalswalk2dc.com for more information. To speak with Miss Opal Lee, please contact D’Aria Hookfin (email@example.com). To speak with a Change.org representative about the petition, please contact Amanda Mustafic (firstname.lastname@example.org).
ABOUT OPAL’S JOURNEY
Ms. Opal is the oldest living board member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) that was founded and led by the late Dr. Ronald Myers, Sr., whose primary initiative is for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. To bring awareness to the cause, she started her Opal’s Walks 2 DC campaign in 2016, where she walks 2.5 miles to symbolize the 2.5 years that it took for slaves in Texas to know that they were freed. Ms. Opal believes that FREEDOM should be celebrated from the 19th of June to the 4th of July.
Change.org is the world’s largest petition platform — empowering millions of people to start, join, and win campaigns for social change in their community, city, and country.