When Opal Lee was just 12 years old, she and her family were forced to flee their Fort Worth, Texas home after threats from a racist mob who ultimately destroyed it. Almost 85 years later, she has been given the land back, and a nonprofit is helping her build a home on the property.
“I could have done a holy dance, I tell you,” Lee told local television station WFAA. “That was really, oh boy!”
Due to her tireless efforts to get Juneteenth recognized as a holiday commemorating the end of slavery, Lee is known as the grandmother of Juneteenth. In 2016, at the age of 89, she walked 1,400 miles to bring attention to her cause and convince lawmakers to make Juneteenth a national holiday, now celebrated annually on June 19.
Ironically, it was on June 19, 1939 that about 500 angry white people forced the Lee family from their new home, destroyed it, and burned their possessions, according to newspaper reports.
“The people didn’t want us,” Lee told ABC7 in Los Angeles. “They started gathering. The paper said the police couldn’t control the mob. My father came with a gun, and police told them if he busted a cap, they’d let the mob have us. They started throwing things at the house, and when they left, they took out the furniture and burned it and burned the house.”
When Lee learned that Trinity Habitat for Humanity owned the vacant lot at 940 E. Annie St. in Fort Worth, where her family home once stood, she asked if she could buy it.
Trinity Habitat For Humanity offered Lee the land in exchange for $10 to ensure the deal was legal, according to The Washington Post. In addition, the nonprofit offered to build Lee a new home with the help of community donations and volunteers.
“It should be hers, and there should be something good to come out of something terrible all those years ago,” Gage Yager, CEO of Trinity Habitat for Humanity told The Post.
“It’s both an amazing and terrible story, and hopefully, as she says, it comes full circle,” Yager said. “We’ll build a home, laugh, cry and move her in. And we’ll celebrate the moment when that happens.”
The home is expected to be completed some time in 2024.