Faces of Black Excellence

This is how much it cost Opal Lee to move back to the site of her Fort Worth childhood home

This Juneteenth was profoundly meaningful for Opal Lee, the revered “Grandmother of Juneteenth.” At 97, she was presented with the keys to a brand-new home last week, constructed on the same Fort Worth, Texas, land where a racist mob burned down her family’s house over 80 years ago.

Lee’s new home, built by History Maker Homes and furnished by JCPenney, was made possible through contributions from local Texas organizations like Trinity Habitat for Humanity and Texas Capital, costing her only $10, as reported by Essence.

“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 a challenging one. After years of trying to repurchase and rebuild, she discovered that Trinity Habitat for Humanity had acquired it. When informed of the land’s history, they were inspired to help.

This Juneteenth marks 85 years since white rioters burned down the Lee family’s home in 1939. “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,” Lee said while recalling the incident. “We would have made good neighbors, but they didn’t give us an opportunity. And I felt like everybody needs an opportunity.”

Upon receiving her keys, Lee declared her new home was going to be a “happy place.” Lee, whose advocacy was pivotal in Juneteenth’s recognition as a federal holiday, undertook a 1,400-mile journey from Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in 2016 to lobby for it.

Her efforts succeeded on June 17, 2021, when President Joe Biden signed the holiday into law, marking a significant milestone with bipartisan support.

Referencing the significance of the moment, President Biden said “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.”

At last week’s ceremony, Myra Savage, board president of Trinity Habitat for Humanity, thanked Lee for embodying “community, restoration, hope, and light.”

According to The Associated Press, Lee was so eager to move from her longtime Fort Worth home to her new house that she planned to bring only her toothbrush.

“I just so want this community and others to work together to make this the best city.”

Stephen Nartey

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