Opal Lee – known widely as the “grandmother of Juneteenth” – will be in Memphis Sunday (Aug. 29) to sign copies of her children’s book, “Juneteenth: A Children’s Story,” at the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum.
The book-signing event is set for 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the museum at 826 N. 2nd St. Memphis.
Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States and has been an African-American tradition since the late 19th century.
In 2016, Lee laced up her sneakers for a 1,400-mile trek from her home in Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C., hoping to ask President Barack Obama to make Juneteenth a national holiday. She made national headlines, earned a credit in the film “Miss Juneteenth” and gained more than 1.6 million signatures on a petition to mark the holiday.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger informed plantation owners in Galveston, Texas that Abraham Lincoln had declared the last of enslaved Black people free under the terms of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
Earlier this year, Congress established June 19 as Juneteenth National Independence Day – a U.S. federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States of America.
In June, President Biden signed the legislation into law with Lee, 94, beside him.
“Ms. Opal is an amazing woman,” said Dr. Belay Reddick, her tour manager. “I’m excited about this book signing event. For decades, she’s made it her mission to see that Juneteenth became a federally-recognized holiday.”
Juneteenth – also known as Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day and Emancipation Day – is the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. Most states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday or have an official observance of the day, and most states hold celebrations.
Before the new legislation, Juneteenth was a paid holiday for state employees in only four states, Texas, New York, Virginia and Washington.
“She’s truly an American treasure and icon,” Dr. Reddick said of Lee. “She is really looking forward to coming to the beautiful City of Memphis.”
The event is free and books may be purchased onsite. If time permits, Lee will read from her work.
Lee’s book is published by Unity Unlimited, Inc.
(For more information about Lee, visit www.sbcompanyinternational.com.)