Traumatic Childhood Incident
When Opal Lee was 12 years old in 1939, her family moved into a house in an all-White Fort Worth neighborhood. Within a week, a racist mob of 500 people showed up, vandalizing their new home as police stood by inactive.
Lee, now 97, recounted to CBS how the attackers “tore it asunder. They set stuff on fire. They did despicable things.”
The experience was deeply traumatic for Lee and her family, who had hoped this would be the nicest home they’d have in Fort Worth. “To come back later to see it in shambles, that was traumatic,” said Lee.
Reclaiming the Land 80 Years Later
More than eight decades after that horrific incident, Lee decided it was time to reclaim the land. She contacted the current owner and discovered the vacant plot was owned by the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, where she had previously served on the board.
Lee shared her story with Habitat CEO Gage Yager, whom she’s known for 30 years. Yager offered to give Lee the land, saying: “We won’t sell it to you Opal, but we’ll give it to you. There’s no option for anything else.”
Yager even offered to have Habitat build Lee a new house on the property with help from donors, hoping to have it ready by her 99th birthday. An overjoyed Lee said, “I’ve got a God who has been so good to me. I think if I ask, he’d let me have a couple more years.”
Lee’s Life of Activism and Achievements
After retiring from teaching in 1977, Lee devoted herself to activism. Her most famous achievement is her vital role in making Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, culminating years of advocacy.
Now on the cusp of 100, the indestructible Opal Lee continues to inspire with her optimism and determination. As Yager put it, gifting Lee this meaningful plot of land helps “erase a big negative from all those years ago” in her remarkable life.