Biden got down on one knee to welcome the 94-year-old ‘grandmother’ of Juneteenth to the White House

Opal Lee (2nd L), the activist known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, US Vice President Kamala Harris look on as US President Joe Biden gives a pen to US Congresswoman Barbara Lee (L) after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act.
Opal Lee (2nd L), the activist known as the grandmother of Juneteenth, US Vice President Kamala Harris look on as US President Joe Biden gives a pen to US Congresswoman Barbara Lee (L) after signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. JIM WATSON/Getty Images
  • President Joe Biden delivered a special greeting on Thursday to Opal Lee, a 94-year-old Texas activist.
  • In 2016, Lee marched 2,253km from Fort Worth, Texas, to DC to advocate for making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
  • Biden officially made Juneteenth a national holiday, signing the bill into law with Lee by his side.
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President Joe Biden delivered a special greeting on Thursday to a central figure in the campaign to make Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery, a national holiday – a goal that became law on Thursday.

Biden got down on one knee to greet Opal Lee, the 94-year-old Juneteenth advocate and former educator from Texas, at the presidential signing ceremony as Vice President Kamala Harris introduced her.

Growing up in Marshall and Fort Worth, Lee celebrated Juneteenth every year. On Juneteenth in 1939, when she was 12, a white mob raided and burned her family’s home. In 2016, Lee walked 2,253km from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, DC, in an effort to raise awareness and support for making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

During his speech before the signing, Biden asked the audience to give Lee, who was seated in the front row, a standing ovation.

“We’re blessed to mark the day in the presence of Ms. Opal Lee – as my mother would say, God, love her,” Biden said. “Over the course of decades, she’s made it her mission to see that this day came.”

The president joked that Lee was just 49 years old.

“You are an incredible woman,” he added.

Biden gave Lee the first pen he used to sign the bill into law.

“I’ve got so many different feelings all gurgling up here, I don’t know what to call them all,” Lee told reporters after Congress passed the bill on Wednesday. “I’m so delighted to know that, finally, we’ve got a Juneteenth bill passed.”

Juneteenth, often referred to as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, celebrates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and announced that enslaved African Americans were emancipated in the last Confederate territory.

-CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) June 17, 2021