Opal Lee gets the keys to her new home in Texas, 85 years after a racist gang drove her family off the property

Fort Worth, Texas — Opal Lee, the 97-year-old Texan known for her effort to make Juneteenth a national holiday, got the keys Friday to her new home, which was built on the same tree-lined corner lot in Fort Worth as her family. expelled by a racist gang when she was twelve.

“I’m so happy I don’t know what to do,” Lee said, sitting in a rocking chair on the house’s porch just before the ceremony.

The ceremony to welcome Lee to the newly completed home comes just days before the country celebrates Juneteenth, the holiday that marks the end of slavery in the U.S. that means so much to Lee. Several area groups came together to build and furnish the house, which was completed less than three months after the first wall was built.

Lee said she plans to hold an open house so she can meet her new neighbors.

“Everyone will know this is going to be a happy place,” she said.

June 19 – June 19 – will mark 85 years since a mob, angry that a black family had moved in, began gathering outside the house her parents had just bought. As the crowd grew, her parents sent her and her siblings to a friend’s house a few blocks away, eventually leaving themselves.

Newspaper articles at the time said the crowd, which grew to about 500 people, smashed the house’s windows, dragged furniture into the street and destroyed it. She has said that her family did not return to the house and that her parents never spoke about what happened that day. Instead, they simply went to work buying another house.

Lee has said that it wasn’t something she thought about either, but in recent years she started thinking about reclaiming her destiny. After learning that Trinity Habitat for Humanity had purchased the land, Lee called the CEO and her longtime friend, Gage Yager.

Yager has said that it wasn’t until Lee asked if she could buy the lot several years ago that she learned the story of what happened to her family on June 19, 1939. The lot was sold to her for $10.

HistoryMaker Homes built the house at no cost to Lee, while Texas Capital, a financial services company, provided financing to furnish the house. JCPenney donated appliances, dishes and linens.

In recent years, Lee has become known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” after years of rallying people to join her in what became a successful effort to make June 19 a national holiday. The former teacher and school district counselor has been tirelessly involved in her hometown of Fort Worth for decades, including creating a large community garden.

During the ceremony Friday, Myra Savage, board chair of Trinity Habitat for Humanity, told Lee, “Thank you for being a living example of what your home represents today, which is community, recovery, hope and light.”

Lee has said she was so eager to move from the Fort Worth home she had lived in for more than half a century to the new home that she planned to simply take her toothbrush, which she had in hand on Friday.

“I just want this community and others to work together to make this country the best city, the best state and the best country in the world. and we can do it together,” Lee said.

Stengle contributed to this report from Dallas.