Who is Ms. Opal Lee? Ms. Lee was born on October 7, 1926 in Marshall, Texas. Her mother moved to Fort Worth when she was ten-years-old. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953 from Wiley College (now Wiley University) and returned to Fort Worth to teach at Amanda McCoy Elementary School for 15 years where she was regarded as one of the best educators in her field. She later obtained her Master’s Degree in Counseling and Guidance from North Texas State University and served as Home/School Counselor for Fort Worth Independent School District until her retirement in 1977. Ms. Lee is an active member in her church, Baker Chapel AME, where she’s a Deaconess in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an office also held by the late Rosa Parks.
Ms. Opal Lee gives us background information on herself, her work, and provides an oral history of Juneteenth.
Ms. Lee discusses her work in making Juneteenth a national holiday.
Article in the Philadelphia Tribune on how Ms. Opal Lee started her walk.
Ms. Lee joined the National Juneteenth movement of the late Dr. Ronald Myers, founder of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF). NJOF’s mission is to inspire federal legislators to declare Juneteenth a National Holiday, much like Flag Day or Presidents Day. Steve Williams is NJOF current National President. Ron Brown is NJOF Northeast Regional Director. With Ms. Lee’s assistance in this National Movement, today 45 states in the United States recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Among her peers of 45 National State Directors, she is referred to as the Mother of Juneteenth. For over 40 years, Ms. Lee has served as the President and founder of Fort Worth, Texas Juneteenth Celebration.
Why The Opal Walk? On September 1, 2016, 90-year-old Opal Lee, with two knee replacements, made the decision to launch a grassroots Opalswalk2dc campaign to appeal to President Barrack Obama. She was hoping to ask President Obama in person, before he left the White House, to issue a Presidential Proclamation and declare Juneteenth a National Holiday in America. Ms. Lee arranged her campaign also to mobilize voters to Petition Congress to amend U.S. Code: Title 36 to include Juneteenth Emancipation Day.
Walking On Faith
On the morning of September 1, 2016, Ms. Lee laced up her walking shoes and walked out of her house to begin her “walking on faith” Opalswalk2dc crusade, walking hundreds of miles across the United States, from Texas to Washington, D.C. Ms, Lee’s 2016 Opal Walk crusade entailed her walking 2.5 miles to 5 miles per day in Shreveport, Louisiana, Texarkana, Arkansas, Fort Smith, Akansas, Little Rock, Arkansas, St. Louis, Missouri, Jackson, Mississippi, Birmingham, Alabama, Selma, Alabama, Tuskegee, Alabama, Atlanta, Georgia, Madison, Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Pueblo, Colorado, Littleton, Colorado and Chicago, Illinois, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, Columbia, South Carolina, Durham, North Carolina, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Hampton, and Virginia. Ms. Lee stopped by St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Columbia, South Carolina, to walk around the campus and speak with students about the importance of the Juneteenth holiday. Mrs. Opal Lee continued her national trek across America with stops in Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh on November 26th 2016, and Philadelphia on November 29th 2016.
On November 29, 2016, Ron Brown and the Pennsylvania Juneteenth Coalition partnered with Rev. Mark Tyler and Historic Mother Bethel AME Church to host Ms. Lee and her National Opalswalk2dc campaign in Philadelphia. During the 2016 Opal Walk in Philadelphia, Ms. Lee befriended Sharmain Matlock-Turner, Rev. Zemoria Brandon, Councilwomen Helen Gym, and Leslie Tyler (the enclosed photos with this article captures the moments). Because of the great time shared together, on a rainy day. Ms. Lee was extended an invitation by her friends in Philly to return to Philadelphia on April 24th, 2020 to lace up her walking shoes to once again walk with her friends and, this time, with elementary, middle, and high school students. She will also be walking with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania citizens, walking in history’s treasure, the heart of Philadelphia’s first and largest African American Community in the 18th & 19th Century.
The Opal Walk is a call to action to Pennsylvanians and guests of the Commonwealth to lace up their walking shoes to walk with 93-year-old seasoned Opal Lee. Come out and walk with middle and high school students, who are taken outside the classroom, outside the history books, to experience up close and personal Philadelphia’s rich African American history. Professional tour instructors will train middle and high school students to be tour docents to their peers and tourists. This historic Juneteenth national event serves as a call to action to Pennsylvanians and visitors to the Commonwealth to proudly walk in history with elder Opal Lee as she leads citizens of all races and creeds to a promised time in history; celebrating Juneteenth National Freedom Celebration for the first time as an official state holiday in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
April 24th Opal Lee 7th Ward Legacy Walk (POSTPONED DUE TO COVID-19)
Breakfast/Press Conference @ Morning Glory 7:30 am – 8:45 am 10th & Fitzwater
Opal Walk Program Frank Palumbo Rec. Ctr. 9-9:45 10/9th, Bainbridge – Fitzwater
Opal Walk Kick-off- Old 7th Ward (33 Tour Sites) 10 am- 12:00 noon
Opal Walk Program @ Starr Garden 6th & Lombard (History and Momo play recital)
Opal Walk Program @ President White House Slave Quarters 5th Chestnut/Market
12:00 Noon Reception @ City Hall
Register for the tour online at PennsylvaniaJuneteenth.org and FrancesHarperProject.org
“Our young people are really not aware of the celebration and its significance,…. “If you know that we weren’t free on the Fourth of July, we have an obligation to make Juneteenth a unifier.”—Opal Lee