"Let’s follow her lead and try to leave our grandkids a better world.”
After President Joe Biden officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday on Thursday, June 17, Barack Obama celebrated the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth got its name from its date (June 19), but there’s a lot more to it than that. As people across the country are observing the newly incorporated holiday, Obama took to Twitter to share his joy about it, and he took the time to highlight “the Grandmother of Juneteenth.”
Obama’s tweet on Saturday, June 19 — the first time the holiday has been recognized federally — begins with a bit of a history lesson. “Now that Juneteenth is a federal holiday, take a minute to learn about Opal Lee—the woman who did more than anyone to make it happen,” he wrote. His tweet links to an article about Lee from CNN. Obama concluded his post with a hopeful message, “Let’s follow her lead and try to leave our grandkids a better world than the one we came up in.”
The article details Lee’s fight to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. She grew up celebrating Juneteenth in Marshall, Texas, and finally learned its true meaning when she became an adult. As a working woman in education, she eventually organized huge festivals to celebrate Juneteenth that she says got as many as 30,000 attendees in three days. Years later, in 2016, she began her quest to get Juneteenth recognized as a federal holiday at 89 years old. Lee launched an online petition, and made a plan to walk 1,400 from Texas to Washington, D.C.
Finally, in June 2021, Lee saw her wish come true at 94 and has earned herself the nickname “the Grandmother of Juneteenth.”
Michelle Obama also shared a tribute post for Juneteenth, asking people to remember the importance of protecting voting rights. “Let's celebrate #Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday by recognizing the generations of enslaved Black people who fought so hard for their freedom,” wrote Michelle. “One of the best ways to do that is by fortifying our sacred right to vote.”
Her post included a link to her nonprofit organization, When We All Vote, encouraging people to register to vote for Juneteenth weekend.
The Obamas were championing Juneteenth before its federal holiday status back in June 2020. In his tweet, Barack called Juneteenth “a celebration of progress” and “an affirmation that despite the most painful parts of our history, change is possible.”
Meanwhile, Michelle wrote about her feelings on the then-unofficial holiday, calling it a reminder that slavery didn’t end right after the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. “Even in that extended wait, we still find something to celebrate. Even though the story has never been tidy, and black folks have had to march and fight for every inch of our freedom, our story is nonetheless one of progress,” she tweeted in a letter.
Before Juneteenth became a holiday in 2021, many celebrities were also pushing for its recognition in June 2020, including Mindy Kaling, Tom Hanks, and Taylor Swift.
As you celebrate Juneteenth, it’s clear the Obamas said it best then and now—it’s all about progress.