Opal Lee’s campaign to make Juneteenth a national holiday gets an assist from Carmelo Anthony

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Politics, Social Justice

As one of the biggest advocates for making Juneteenth a national holiday, Texas native Opal Lee has attracted quite the following around the country to rally around her cause. Yesterday, at a virtual summit sponsored by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Lee discussed the current push to make Juneteenth a national holiday with NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony, who vowed he would keep the pressure going until her lifelong dream is achieved.

Juneteenth commemorates the day (June 19, 1865) when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas and proclaimed slavery was abolished in the United States. CAA Amplify’s livestreamed event was billed as “Juneteenth: The Road to Unity” and it kicked off with a conversation between Lee and Anthony.

An educator and civil rights activist, Lee has been organizing around Juneteenth for decades. In 2016, at the age of 90, she made a symbolic march to Washington to raise awareness about her campaign. Lee’s efforts to make Juneteenth a national holiday gained national attention last summer after the wave of Black Lives Matter marches and protests following the death of George Floyd. On Juneteenth last year, Lee walked 2.5 miles, symbolizing the amount of time it took for news of the abolition of slavery to reach Texas.

Anthony, currently playing for the Portland Trail Blazers in his eighteenth season in the NBA, asked a number of questions of Lee, including what inspired her D.C. walk. “My idea was if a little old lady in tennis shoes was walking from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington D.C. somebody would notice, and I think they did,” said Lee.  

Lee emphasized that ultimately Juneteenth is an opportunity to “bring people together.” She later joked with Anthony that his prolific social media network would be a huge asset for the campaign. Anthony agreed, and offered a message for his followers. “We have to keep the pressure on the powers that be, and we can’t stop now and there’s too much work you’ve put in.”

After the conversation between Lee and Anthony, the program showed video messages from Rep. Karen Bass, Senator Tina Smith, and Senator John Cornyn pledging their bipartisan support for making Juneteenth a national holiday.

The program concluded with a conversation between Rep. Marc Veasey and CAA’s Head of U.S. Government Affairs Ty Bland. Veasey recounted his own history with Juneteenth as a child when he attended an event with his parents at Sycamore Park that was celebrating the occasion. That event was organized by Opal Lee.

Bland then asked Veasey about the state of HR 1320, the bill that would make Juneteenth a national holiday. Veasey acknowledged that a hearing will occur at some point this year in front of the House Oversight Committee. He also cited the strong bipartisan support for the bill, and the work of many members of Congress, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, to pass the legislation that would ultimately go the White House.

Veasey encouraged the audience to contact their local representatives to urge them to support the legislation. “It’s a lot easier for a bill to die, even here in the majority, then for a bill to become law,” said Veasey. He later emphasized that all the national recognition for the bill “will help aid the process for the bill to become a reality.”

If Juneteenth does become a national holiday, it will certainly be a testament to the amazing work from Opal Lee.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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A longtime writer and journalist, Jessica was thrilled to join the Texas Signal where she could utilize her unique perspective on politics and culture. As the Features and Opinion Editor, she is responsible for coordinating editorials and segments from diverse authors. She is also the host of the podcast the Tex Mix, as well as the co-host for the weekly SignalCast. Jessica attended Harvard College, is a onetime fitness blogger, and has now transitioned to recreational runner (for which her joints are thankful).

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