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Community walks 2½ miles alongside ‘Grandmother of Juneteenth’ Opal Lee

Fort Worth born-and-raised May Benson, 49, remembers when “Grandmother of Juneteenth” Opal Lee kept her and the other children at the Bethlehem Center, 951 Evans Ave., level-headed.

Benson grew up in Butler Place, or “Brick City,” and made the journey to the Southside for school. There she met Lee.

“She was always doing something to make sure that we stayed constructed. She’s outstanding for real,” Benson said. “We know her personally. She kept us in check at the Bethlehem Center.”

Benson said the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” is somebody to look up to. Benson and her mother, Genice Browning, 77, marched along with Lee for her 2½-mile Walk for Freedom on June 18.

Hundreds of people in Fort Worth participated in the first Walk for Freedom on June 18 since Juneteenth had been declared a federal holiday. Participants began their trek at Evans Avenue Plaza, 1050 Evans Ave., and concluded at the new Fort Worth City Hall, 100 Energy Way.

The 2½-mile walk represented the 2½ years it took for news of emancipation to reach enslaved people in Texas and other Southern states in 1865.

For six years, Lee, 95, advocated for Juneteenth — or Jubilee Day and Emancipation Day — to be deemed a federal holiday.

She achieved just that when President Joseph Biden signed Senate Bill 475, the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act, into law.

“This is history,” Benson said.

Cristian ArguetaSoto is the community engagement journalist at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him by email or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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