President Biden used a portion of his White House remarks before signing a bill to make Juneteenth a new federal holiday to recognize Opal Lee, calling her an “incredible woman.”
“Opal, you’re incredible. A daughter of Texas. Grandmother of the movement to make Juneteenth a federal holiday,” Biden said of the 94-year-old.
Biden shared that in June 19, 1939, when Lee was 12 years old, a White mob torched her family home. The President noted that such hate “never stopped her” from her efforts to make it a federal holiday.
“Over the course of decades, she’s made it her mission to see that this day came. It was almost a singular mission. She’s walked for miles and miles literally and figuratively to bring attention to Juneteenth,” Biden said, asking that those in the room stand and give her a welcome to the White House.
In 2016, then 89-year-old Lee set out on foot from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, with the goal of reaching the nation’s capital. Determined to see Juneteenth become a national holiday, she hoped that “surely somebody would notice a little old lady in tennis shoes.”
The “grandmother of Juneteenth” continued to push for the effort with an annual 2.5-mile walk in her hometown, symbolizing the two-and-a-half years it took for word of the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation to reach enslaved people in Texas.
Earlier this year, she flew to Washington, DC, to push for Juneteenth legislation during the week Senate and House lawmakers re-introduced the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
CNN’s Harmeet Kaur contributed reporting to this post.