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Fire in Their Bones

If I say, “I will not mention the Lord or speak any more in God’s name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. - Jeremiah 20:9 (NRSV, adapted for inclusive language)

 

Like the prophet Jeremiah, Ms. Opal Lee, the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” has had fire in her bones since she was young. Like Jeremiah who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, on June 19, 1939, the 12-year-old Ms. Lee watched a mob of 500 white rioters burn down her family’s home, because they’d moved into a predominately white neighborhood of Fort Worth, Texas.

 

And like Jeremiah, Ms. Lee couldn’t hold in the holy fire of God’s justice and peace. After retiring as an educator, she became an activist, organizing yearly bus tours for city leaders around Fort Worth’s poorest neighborhoods. And she started to walk—2.5 miles each year, all around the city, to bring attention to Juneteenth and the 2.5-year delay in implementing the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas.

 

Her first walk started at her church. Then in 2016, at age 89, she began a symbolic walk from Ft. Worth to Washington, D.C. “I was thinking that surely,” she said, “somebody would see a little old lady in tennis shoes trying to get to Congress and notice.”

 

People did notice. On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed the bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday. He then got down on one knee before Ms. Lee to present the pen and thank her. “God love you, Ms. Opal,” the President said. “You’re incredible.”

 

Amen to that truth.

 

Prayer

Thank you, God, for your prophets like Ms. Opal Lee and Jeremiah who can’t hold in your Holy Fire of justice and love. Amen.

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