AUSTIN (KXAN) — Opal Lee has a spunk and fight in her that’s gained national momentum over the last several years.
So much so that she’s now recognized as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” playing a fundamental role in getting it recognized as a national holiday.
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States in the late 1800s.
Lee’s portrait was unveiled in front of a crowd in the Texas Senate on Wednesday. It’s just the second to honor an African-American Texan, according to the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.
Texas Artist Jess Coleman, painted Lee’s portrait.
“I didn’t know I looked that good!,” Lee joked, shortly after she got a first look at the painting.
Lee, 96, was overwhelmed when she saw her portrait unveiled. She smiled big, and clapped her hands as she got a standing ovation from senators on the floor. The audience in the senate gallery also rose to their feet.
“I was so happy, and so humbled,” Lee said. “I wanted to do a happy dance, but the kids say I’m twerking when I do that.”
The unveiling of her portrait is a testament to her strong will and and perseverance. She always has a lot to say, but she sat and listened as a number of senators thanked and honored her, leading up to the portrait unveiling.
Senators shared words, and personal stories of how Lee has impacted and inspired them.
“It get’s no simpler than saying, receiving your roses while you’re alive, darling,” a senator said.
Lee literally walks the walk. Back in 2016 she started walking two and a half miles in cities all across the country. Those miles, symbolizing the two and a half years it took for word to get out to all slaves, that they were free.
And crowds began joining her. Those walks led President Biden to sign a bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021.
And lee is still fighting for civil rights.
“If people can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love,” Lee recited as one of her famous quotes.
Love is something she continues to lead with.
“We need days like this, Ms. Lee,” a senator said. “We have so much divisiveness in our society. This is a day that heals a lot of wounds and brings us together. And you’re the cause for it.”
Lee’s spirit is strong, her heart humble. And she wants others to stay inspired.
“There’s much to be done,” Lee said with conviction. Much to be done!”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested Lee’s portrait be commissioned and displayed. Senator Royce West was fundamental in making it a reality on Tuesday, saying portraits at the Capitol should reflect all Texans.
The senate voted unanimously to adopt the resolution for Lee’s portrait.