Woman, 90, on Long Walk to Pitch 'Juneteenth' to Obama

Opal Lee says June 19 ought to be a national holiday
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2017 12:06 PM CST
Woman, 90, on Long Walk to Pitch 'Juneteenth' to Obama
Opal Lee estimates she's walked more than 1,400 miles.   (www.opalswalk2dc.com)

She's almost there. Opal Lee, 90, set out from her home in Fort Worth, Texas, in September with a single goal: a long walk, with a final stop in Washington, DC, where she wants to present her petition to President Obama calling for a federal holiday on June 19. That's the day—"Juneteenth"—that Union soldiers came to Texas in 1865 with the news that slavery had been abolished more than two years earlier. What started out as a stroll around Lee's church last August mushroomed into something bigger. "The people walked with me, and we've been going ever since," Lee tells NPR. "I just thought if a little, old lady in tennis shoes was out there walking, somebody would take notice." She was right. Invitations started coming, and Lee was happy to take them—in states ranging from Colorado and Ohio and Pennsylvania and Virginia, in a quest to add 100,000 signatures to her petition.

"I walk wherever I’m invited," Lee told CBS Pittsburgh during a stop in November. "Two and a half miles in the morning and two and a half in the afternoon to symbolize that slaves were later told that they were free." Lee, who collects donations on GoFundMe, is due in the nation's capital next week, where she hopes to make her case to Obama and lawmakers. Although 45 states count Juneteenth as a holiday, Lee says federal recognition is important. "It would be the oldest holiday of significance for black people in these United States, so it needs to be observed and celebrated," she tells Fox4. "Slaves didn't free themselves," she adds, per NPR. "There were abolitionists and people of all persuasions that worked untiringly to have slavery abolished." And if her pitch falls short next week? There's a new president coming and Lee plans to keep pushing with him. (Dallas once voted on slavery reparations.)

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