Joe Biden gets down on one knee to welcome ‘grandmother of Juneteenth’ to White House as law is passed

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Ninety-four-year-old activist and retired educator Opal Lee, known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, speaks with US president Joe Biden after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on 17 June 2021 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)
Ninety-four-year-old activist and retired educator Opal Lee, known as the Grandmother of Juneteenth, speaks with US president Joe Biden after he signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on 17 June 2021 in Washington, DC (Getty Images)

President Joe Biden got down on one knee to greet Opal Lee, a 94-year-old woman who advocated for decades to make Juneteenth — a day commemorating the end of slavery in America — a federal holiday.

Ms Lee received the special greeting from the president, along with the pen that he used to sign the bill recognising 19 June as the 11th national holiday, reported Business Insider.

Calling her the “grandmother of the movement,” Mr Biden said, “We’re blessed to mark the day in the presence of Ms Opal Lee - as my mother would say, ‘God, love her.’”

Ms Lee was 12 when a white mob torched her family home in Texas on Juneteenth, 1939, said Mr Biden. “But such hate never stopped her any more than it stopped the vast majority of you I’m looking at from this podium,” he said.

Asking the audience to give her a standing ovation, Mr Biden said, “over the course of decades, she’s made it her mission to see that this day came. It was almost a singular mission.”

Ms Lee trekked across the US from Fort Worth Texas to Washington DC in 2016 to raise awareness about Juneteenth and for pressurising lawmakers and the White House to recognise it as a national holiday.

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“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They don’t ignore those moments of the past. They embrace them,” said the president adding that more needs to be done to address racism.

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“The truth is, it’s not — simply not enough just to commemorate Juneteenth. After all, the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans didn’t mark the end of America’s work to deliver on the promise of equality; it only marked the beginning.”

Juneteenth commemorates 19 June, 1865, as the day when roughly 2,000 Union Army soldiers landed at Galveston, Texas, with news that enslaved African Americans were now free.

“I’ve got so many different feelings all gurgling up here -- I don’t know what to call them all,” Ms Lee had told CNN affiliate KTVT in her Fort Worth House, after Congress passed the bill. “We’ve got all of these disparities that we’ve got to address and I mean all of them. While we’ve got some momentum I hope we can get some of it done. We can have one America if we try,” she was quoted as saying.

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