An unusual journey began in Fort Worth last night. An 89-year-old woman named Opal Lee started a walk to the White House. Her goal: Make Juneteenth a national day of observance.
Juneteenth marks the day that word arrived in Texas that slavery had ended. It was some 2 and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Lee is a long-time civil rights activist. She says that, for years, people have tried unsuccessfully to get Juneteenth to be observed by the federal government, so she figured she’d do something unexpected.
“I thought maybe, if an old lady started out, somebody would take notice,” she said as she started her walk at Baker Chapel AME Church in East Fort Worth. “And maybe the president and Congress would say we don’t want that woman dying on our watch, get on up here so she can go home.”
Forty-five states recognize Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19. And while Congress observes the day, Juneteenth doesn’t have the same standing as an official, national day of observance like Flag Day, Parents' Day, Leif Erickson Day and 141 other commemorative days marked by the federal government.
Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks joined Lee for a sendoff at Baker Chapel A-M-E Church in East Fort Worth. He said the day’s historical significance cannot be understated.
“There is no other celebration that observes the fact that black folks were freed at some point,” he said.
Lee hopes the walk will also help generate signatures for her whitehouse.gov petition – 100,000 signatures guarantees a response by the Obama administration.
Lee plans to take the 1,400-mile journey in daily, ten-mile increments. She hopes that’ll get her to the nation’s capital before President Obama leaves office. That is, if he doesn’t call sooner and tell her to get on a plane.