The Grandmother of Juneteenth's Story Teaches Kids What it Means To Be Free

Author Alice Faye Duncan talked to Kindred about her book, Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of The Grandmother of Juneteenth, and other stories that teach kids about Black freedom.

Opal Lee, Grandmother of Juneteenth
Opal Lee, 93, stands in front of the East Annie Street lot on June 2, 2021, where white rioters attacked, invaded and burned her family's home in 1939. Photo: Amanda McCoy/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Juneteenth is right around the corner and despite the recent commercialization of the holiday, it has been a part of Black culture for years. While every home will have to set the tone for how they honor and remember the holiday, Juneteenth ultimately is a day of remembrance. And for Alice Faye Duncan, author of Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of The Grandmother of Juneteenth, books play a huge role in how we can educate our children on Black History.

"When you want children to do brave things, you have to show them models of people doing brave things," she said in an interview with Kindred by Parents. "And so therefore, my book Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free for a younger child, this book then gives them a poetic and lyrical demonstration of someone who was an elder in the community and used their might to bring about change. When children see those examples, they will become, or be, what they see."

The subject of Duncan's book, Ms. Opal Lee, is known as the grandmother of Juneteenth for a reason. Lee was 12 years old when white rioters attacked and burned down her family's home in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1939. In 2016, at the age of 89, she decided to walk from her home in Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday. This was after years of fighting and advocating for it to become a federal holiday. Finally, on June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed Senate Bill S. 475, making Juneteenth the eleventh federal holiday. And with such a rich history, it's extremely important for families to go about honoring and remembering the holiday in a respectful manner.

Alice Faye Duncan, Author of Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of The Grandmother of Juneteenth

Regardless of what you do on Juneteenth, make sure that your day is multigenerational. That there is a time set aside that you give the elders an opportunity to speak into your life and to share things and the lessons that they find are most important and paramount as you journey through this land.

— Alice Faye Duncan, Author of Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of The Grandmother of Juneteenth

"There are a variety of tenets that grandmother Opal Lee says we should remember. The first thing you should remember when you are celebrating Juneteenth is remember that it is a time of reflection. It is a time of looking back to remember what we have suffered and it is a time to celebrate our triumph. We don't jump off into Juneteenth with barbecues and bands" Ms. Duncan reminded us. This year alone multiple major companies have faced backlash over using Juneteenth for profit. The inability of these big brands to read the room shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, but perhaps they don't have the benefits that come with learning from and speaking to a trailblazer like Opal Lee.

In conversation, Duncan told Ms. Opal Lee it was important to her that we keep our elders in mind on that day. "Regardless of what you do on Juneteenth, make sure that your day is multigenerational," said Duncan. "That there is a time set aside that you give the elders an opportunity to speak into your life and to share things and the lessons that they find are most important and paramount as you journey through this land."

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Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free by Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life and legacy of a modern-day Black leader while sharing a message of hope, unity, joy, and strength. The book is geared toward preschool through early elementary aged children but is an amazing read for families looking to teach their children about the history of this holiday beyond what they may or may not learn in schools.

As a mom to three beautiful Black children, I am constantly seeking resources to teach them not only about Juneteenth but Black History in general. Below are some great books geared toward children recommended by Alice Faye Duncan to do just that:

  • The History of Juneteenth: A History Book for New Readers by Arlisha Norwood
  • The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States by Alliah L. Agostini
  • Juneteenth: Our Day of Freedom by Sharon Dennis Wyeth
  • What is Juneteenth? (What Was?) by Kirsti Jewel
  • Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History by Schele Williams
  • A Child's Introduction to African American History by Jabari Asim
  • Black Heroes: 51 Inspiring People from Ancient Africa to Modern-Day U.S.A. By Arlisha Norwood

"For me Juneteenth means liberation. Juneteenth is my inspiration to keep marching, to keep teaching, to keep on reaching until freedom does come because it is gon' come" Duncan said. "And how do I know it's gon' come? Because it's come in the past."

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