Menz Magazine

Join Us In Celebrating Black Joy By Learning The True Story Of Black Activist Opal Lee And Her Vision Of Juneteenth As A Holiday

(Courtesy of Opal Lee)

According to research from the American Psychological Association, children begin forming internal biases about race as early as 3 months old. It is critical to provide parents with trustworthy resources that present hard truths about history and current challenges, as well as celebrations of progress, depictions of black joy, and a hopeful vision for the future.

Alice Faye Duncan, the author and NAACP Image Award nominee for Outstanding Literary Work for Children, celebrates the vision and tenacity of activist Opal Lee with a message of hope, unity, joy, and strength in her upcoming picture book, Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth (January 11, 2022, Thomas Nelson).

Duncan’s writings, as an educator of the Civil Rights Movement, have highlighted biographies of Black artists and moments in American history that are rarely told. Her picture books are well-known for providing context and education about the African-American struggle for equal rights in America.

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free, a biographical children’s book, features illustrations by New York Times bestselling illustrator Keturah A. Bobo (I Am Enough) and tells the true story of Black activist Opal Lee’s mission to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Young readers learn about Opal Lee’s life as she shares past and present realities with her grandson and his friends at a Juneteenth picnic.

Opal Lee knew the history of Juneteenth growing up in Texas, but she discovered that many Americans had never heard of the holiday that represents the nation’s creed of “freedom for all.” Opal Lee learned from her grandfather that Juneteenth commemorated the day news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and slave freedom arrived in Texas in 1865, more than two years after the president declared it.

Juneteenth, also known as Juneteenth National Independence Day, Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day, commemorates African American freedom and places a premium on education and achievement (Juneteenth.com). Duncan’s book is a creative and educational resource that explains the holiday and Opal Lee’s experiences as a child and woman.

“If we don’t keep a record of history, people will say it never happened,” said Duncan. “I wrote the Opal Lee story to help children remember America’s past, so they won’t repeat the same misdeeds.”

Opal Lee would later speak up for equality and unity. She went on to work as a teacher, a charity worker, and a community leader. She walked from Fort Worth, Texas, to Washington, D.C., at the age of 89, in an effort to gain national recognition for Juneteenth.

Intended for children ages four to eight, Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free teaches children that:

  • All people are created equal
  • The power of bravery and using your voice for change
  • The history of Juneteenth and what it means today
  • No one is free unless everyone is free
  • Fighting for a dream is worth every difficulty

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