Washington DC – A push to make Juneteenth a national holiday has led Opal Lee to the nation’s capital, two and a half miles at a time.
Lee started a march to Washington in September. The trip from Fort Worth, Tx. was no easy feat for the 90-year-old but she was determined to complete the journey to show the importance of Juneteenth.
“The two and a half miles symbolizes the two and a half years that slaves didn't know they were free when they were,” said Lee.
The holiday marks the day seen in Texas as the actual emancipation of slaves following the Civil War.
“Juneteenth remains an important part of black history in America,” said Lee.
Rather than just be a day of pageants and parades Lee would like people to understand the history behind Juneteenth and have educational components added to celebrations nationwide.
“What we're trying to convey is that Juneteenth is a unifier,” said Lee. “Slaves didn't free themselves it took a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears and absolutions.”
Lee is encouraged that several states have already embraced Juneteenth but said more can be done including launching a theme park in honor of the holiday or extending the celebration until July 4 to make it more like Mardi Gras.
“Forty-five states already have it as a state holiday and we see no reason why it shouldn't be a national holiday,” said Lee.
Lee said upping the profile of the holiday could also help more people understand the history of the civil rights struggle.
The Juneteenth advocate was surprised when she found college students along journey who never dealt with segregated schools.
“The colleges, the kids they embraced [the push to make Juneteenth a national holiday,” said Lee. “They didn't know about it.”
They do now thanks to Lee and she hopes the word continues to spread.
“We all have to contribute in some way and I don't see it being heroic,” said Lee. “I just see it as little old lady is trying to help.”