African-American activist pushing for national Juneteenth holiday stops in Hampton Roads

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Opal Lee may be 92 years old, but she’s got plenty of energy to travel across the nation. She is on a mission: Make Juneteenth a national holiday.

“Ever since I can remember, working with Juneteenth is about unifying people,” Lee said Monday as she stopped in Williamsburg to promote her efforts.

Juneteenth is a day of observance for the African-American community. It recognizes the day African slaves were freed in Texas on June 19, 1865.

Related: Hampton History Museum celebrates Juneteenth with original production

“We’re not talking about a paid holiday - we want it on the calendar," Lee said. "We want people to be aware of it.”

Lee read a book about Juneteenth to a group of children and adults at the Williamsburg Library.  She and those attending her reading walked to the First Baptist Church just around the corner.

Those who walked with her said it was an honor to have her visit Williamsburg.

“To have Miss Opal is so meaningful because I look at her as a light, a torch bearer," said Jacqueline Bridgefort Williams, the founder of Village Initiativean organization that promotes unity and education. "I am a future torchbearer because they have ran this race for so long, and now we are here to continue to the finish line."

The church holds historical context for the African-American community. Several notable African-American leaders, such as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson, visited this church.

The church houses a bell that was made in 1886, and church members said the bell’s meaning is reconciliation and healing of this nation. Lee got the opportunity to ring the bell.

Related: Thousands of people gather in Hampton to commemorate 400 years since American slavery began

“I rang it so many times that I had the strength to pull it and I didn’t count," Lee said.

Lee said she will continue her journey and use all her strength to push forward.

“I am going to walk as long as I’ve got breath in my body to make people aware that Juneteenth needs to be a national holiday," Lee said.

For more information on her journey and efforts, click here to be directed to her website.

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