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One Woman's Quest To Make Juneteenth A National Holiday


This week, thousands of Americans are getting ready to visit Washington, D.C., to attend the inauguration or protests or other events. But we want to introduce you to a woman from Fort Worth, Texas, who's planning a special visit to the nation's capitol for a different reason.

OPAL LEE: I kept telling family and friends that wanted to do it, and I think they thought, well, she's delusional.

MARTIN: That's Opal Lee. She is on a quest to make June 19 a federal holiday. If you know your American history, then you know that June 19 is known as Juneteenth. It marks the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and brought news that slavery had been abolished some two and a half years earlier. Oh, and let me just mention Opal Lee is 91 years old.

LEE: I just thought if a little, old lady in tennis shoes was out there walking, somebody would take notice.

MARTIN: It started out as a simple walk around her church in Fort Worth.

LEE: But I got together some people here. We had a rally, and so after the rally, the people walked with me, and we've been going ever since.

MARTIN: Now she's made her Juneteenth walk throughout the country from Texas to Colorado to Illinois. Her last stop is the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Even though, some 45 states recognize Juneteenth in some way or another, she says the holiday is so important it should be recognized as a federal holiday.

LEE: Slaves didn't free themselves. There were abolitionists and people of all persuasions that worked untiringly to have slavery abolished.

MARTIN: Opal Lee has been trying to get President Obama to make Juneteenth a national holiday before he leaves office. But as that date draws near, she says, she hasn't gotten any sign that the president's onboard. But she's not discouraged.

LEE: I have no idea, but I'll be trying.

MARTIN: And she says she will keep pushing to make Juneteenth a national holiday when Donald Trump becomes president. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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