June 13, 2022
The grandmother of Juneteenth visits the Dallas Wings
Texas' own Ms. Opal Lee attends Dallas Wings game against the Seattle Storm
ARLINGTON, Texas — The Dallas Wings and their fans were in the presence of an important part of history as Ms. Opal Lee — the “grandmother of Juneteenth” — was in attendance for their June 12 game against the Seattle Storm. When Lee was introduced just before tip-off, she reached out her arms and gave the crowd a hug.
Lee is a 95 year old retired counselor, teacher and has been an activist at the forefront of the movement to make Juneteenth a federally recognized holiday. In 2016, at age 89, Lee walked from her home in Fort Worth, TX to Washington D.C. to bring attention to the Juneteenth holiday.
After nearly four decades of activism, on June 17, 2021, her dream came to fruition when President Joe Biden signed Senate Bill S. 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, to make June 19 a federally recognized holiday.
On Saturday, June 18, Lee will have her annual 2.5-mile walk to recognize the two and a half years it took for the news of freedom to reach enslaved people in Texas. Although the holiday is now federally recognized, when she addressed the media pre-game, she said there are so many things that we can do something about if we would each make ourselves a committee of one.
“We can’t wait on government, the city or somebody else; it’s our responsibility,” Lee said.
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The Texas native had a special meeting with the Dallas Wings after their June 9 practice. The meeting left a profound impact on second-year head coach Vickie Johnson.
“To listen to her story was amazing and her storytelling is priceless. It was like listening to my grandmother because I was raised with her and her older cousins, so I was raised around powerful, older women,” Johnson said. “To watch her expression and excitement and still be 90-plus [years old], she’s amazing. And still walks two and a half miles and even did a couple of dribbling moves — I told her she could actually come out and help me coach for a day.
“It was great for my players to see such great history. She is someone who has experienced so much in life and has fought for other people. She has done what God has placed us on this earth to do — and that is to serve other people.”
Dallas forward Satou Sabally felt similarly impacted by the meeting, too.
“She was sitting on her chair so energized and seemed so happy and inspiring. I’m really even speechless. Even sitting in a room with her was great – the grandmother of Juneteenth. The fact that we got to meet her means so much to me and we asked her some questions. She told us to be involved and talk to the person next to us. If they have a controversial mindset, that doesn’t do anything good for other people,” Sabally said.
“We have to protect each other, protect humankind. She said that it isn’t going to happen in a day, but over time you can change minds and use the power we have in our hands. Pay attention to homelessness, schooling, and education. Be involved in rallies and walks and celebrate Juneteenth but also know the history that America is laid on.”
The WNBA has been part of spreading awareness of social injustice and making statements that could lead to change. The league and its players have not shied away from making their stance known on things that can be done to create change and continue to bring light to the tough situations taking place in our society.
Lee said she thought she would never live to see Juneteenth become a federally recognized holiday.
“To be 95 years old and see the President and the Vice President and all those people, I was awed,” Lee said. “And sometimes, I still pinch myself, to be sure.”