If you see a crowd of people walking through the streets of Williamsburg on Monday, don’t be alarmed—they’re here to open the public’s eyes.
The Village Initiative, a local nonprofit that works to create equity and recognize minorities in Williamsburg-James City County schools, is hosting Opal Lee from Fort Worth in a community walk to raise awareness for the Juneteenth holiday, according to a news release from The Village.
Juneteenth is the oldest nationally-recognized commemoration of the official end of slavery in the United States, according to James Madison’s Montpelier. The celebration marks the last day that enslaved people learned of their freedom in 1865 in Texas.
Despite the significance, many people aren’t fully aware that the holiday even exists, said Jacqueline Williams, president of the Village Initiative, in a previous interview.
But Lee, in partnership with The Village, is looking to change that in Williamsburg and across the county.
In 2016, Lee started a grassroots walking campaign to bring awareness for the need of Juneteenth to be nationally recognized as a day of observance. Last month, Lee relaunched the campaign in Detroit.
The walk consists of Lee, who is 92 years old, covering 2.5 miles at various locations around the country in hopes to bring awareness to the holiday and encourage others to sign her petition to make it nationally recognized.
Once Lee’s petition goes live in October, she will have only 30 days to garner 100,000 signatures, according to her website.
Lee has been an active community member throughout her life, working with Habitat for Humanity and even starting an organization in her hometown, Citizens Concerned with Human Dignity, which assists economically disadvantaged people find housing.
Lee describes her “single greatest passion” to be her work on expanding the celebration of Juneteenth, according to her website.
As a way of coming full circle, Lee comes to the area to celebrate the freedom of slaves at a time when the nation is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving in Virginia.
And the significance of this has not been lost on historians.
On Sunday, Lee will receive the Distinguished Service award from the 400 Years of African-American History Commission’s Day of Healing event in Hampton, according to the news release.
To continue her mission, she will be heading to Williamsburg where she will walk through the area’s historically black neighborhoods, starting at the Stryker Center and ending at the First Baptist Church where she will ring the Freedom Bell.
To join Lee in her walk, meet at the Stryker Center on Monday at 10:30 a.m.
For more information, visit Opal’s Walk online.