Culture / Newsy

95-Year-Old Fort Worth Activist Opal Lee Is Still Walking Miles For Freedom — Here’s How You Can Join Her This Juneteenth Weekend

The Grandmother of Juneteenth Wants to Expand the Holiday Celebration

BY // 06.17.22

At age 95, Fort Worth activist Opal Lee has a big weekend ahead of her. One she has been waiting to celebrate for many years with the whole country. As an official federal holiday. The unassuming Lee dedicated herself to crossing the finish line in this push for Juneteenth’s long overdue recognition and The Grandmother of Juneteenth went to the White House to see it signed into federal law last year.

To mark the occasion this year, Opal’s Walk for Freedom will be held this Saturday, June 18 in Lee’s hometown of Fort Worth. Ms. Opal will embark on her annual 2.5 mile walk to recognize the two and a half years it took for the news of freedom to reach the slaves in Galveston. Yes, Opal Lee is still walking for freedom at age 95. In the Texas heat.

Like freedom itself, Lee has traveled long distances to share the news of it. And she will be there at 10 am this Saturday at Evans Avenue Plaza (1050 Evans Avenue in Fort Worth).

Juneteenth is more than just a monumental day for Opal Lee. She’d like the celebration to stretch from June 19th all the way through July 4th every year. For her, the issue of freedom should not be seen through the lens of skin color alone, and she does not want Juneteenth to be segregated from the larger American story of freedom.

That’s why her vision calls for Juneteenth to become just the beginning of a major annual celebration that lasts all the way through the Fourth of July. The leadoff event for the entire country to focus on the meaning of freedom for all its citizens.

“Lately, you hear talk about our differences, but under our skin we are the same,” Lee said in a recent interview with Sisters from AARP. “We bleed red blood, all of us. Freedom isn’t something just for Black people to celebrate.

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“It’s for everybody. I’d like to see our country celebrate freedom from Juneteenth to the Fourth of July.”

Meeting Ms. Opal in person is inspiring. Her tenacity, heart and passion for freedom are as infectious as the welcoming warmth of her smile. She’s been passing out cards stating her grand plans at every appearance. “Let’s celebrate freedom from the 19th of June to the 4th of July” the cards read.

Opal Lee’s Legendary Walk

After a lifetime of service to her community ― as a teacher, social worker and mother ― Opal Lee embarked on a long journey in 2016, determined to walk from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. to raise awareness about the history of Juneteenth, and to gather millions of signatures along the way. All to make its status as a national holiday a reality.

Opal Lee at White house signing ceremony. AP Photo by Evan Vucci
Opal Lee was on hand at the White House to witness the Juneteenth signing ceremony.

At the same time, Lee was hatching an idea for an urban farming project to grow fresh produce, combatting the food deserts in her hometown of Fort Worth. That idea has grown into Opal’s Farm, which donates 10 percent of its yield to local food pantries. The farm project also partners with local organizations providing job training, especially to those who have been previously incarcerated.

When Ms. Opal puts her mind to something, you better get on board.

As for what’s ahead for this difference-making champion?

This 95-year-0ld remains humble about her accomplishments, but Lee is a Noble Peace Prize nominee this year. This year’s Nobel Peace Prize award will be announced on October 7, in Oslo, Norway.

We’re rooting for you, Ms. Opal.

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