A 90-year-old Fort Worth woman will set out Thursday on a planned walk of more than 1,300 miles to Washington, D.C. with the goal of getting Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday.
“We’ve got a whole generation of people who know absolutely nothing about Juneteenth,” said Opal Lee. “They don’t know anything.”
On Jan. 1, 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation which declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free."
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Slaves in Texas were the last to learn of their freedom on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed in Galveston and began to spread the word. That date is celebrated today as Juneteenth.
“We’ve got to let people know,” Lee said.
Lee and her supporters have a website dedicated to her journey — Opal’s Walk — as well as a concerted effort to obtain 100,000 signatures from like-minded people.
Lee is hopeful either Congress or President Barack Obama will hear about her mission and not only agree with its goal, but also spare her much of the walk.
“It’s between 1,300 to 1,400 miles,” Lee said about the journey. “[But] mind you, son, somebody is gonna say, ‘Come on up here to Congress, girl,’ and I ain’t gonna have to walk no 1,300 to 1,400 miles.”
“I’m banking on it. I’m not a gambling person, but I don’t think I’m gonna have to do all of it.”
If Lee does meet with President Obama, this will be the second he’s heard about her idea about Juneteenth in person.
When then-Senator Obama was running for President in 2008, Lee worked her way to the front of a crowd during a campaign stop in North Texas — close enough to have a picture taken near him.
By the time Obama returned on a later campaign stop, Lee had that first photo printed onto a T-shirt that she presented to the future President, who gladly accepted and smiled for a photo.
Opal Lee also presented Obama with a handwritten letter, indicating her desire to see Juneteenth elevated to a higher status nationwide.
“I’ve been talking Juneteenth to everybody I could get to listen,” Lee said.