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story.lead_photo.caption A caravan travels down State Line Avenue during Texarkana's "Opal's Walk" on Juneteenth. A caravan traveled two and a half miles to symbolize the two and a half years between emancipation and enslaved Texans being freed in 1865. Photo by Sara Vaughn

Several dozen local people drove and walked Friday to participate in Opal's Walk Caravan/Parade, a movement that seeks to make Juneteenth a national holiday.

Barbara Sears, secretary of the Greater Texarkana Branch of the NAACP, said she attended the caravan to celebrate the Independence Day for "people of color" — June 19.

"Just like Black Lives Matter, our history matters, too, as it needs to be depicted and taught in education. As a people, we know this is our Independence Day," Sears said, adding she also celebrates July 4 as Independence Day.

On June 19, 1865, the Union commander landed in Galveston, Texas, with the news that the Civil War was over and slaves had been freed two and a half years earlier.

Friday's local caravan/parade began at the Downtown Post Office and proceeded north on State Line Avenue to Albertsons.

About 35 vehicles participated in the caravan and dozens of the caravan and parade participants walked the 2.5 miles from the post office the Albertsons' parking lot. It took both the riders and the walkers just under 90 minutes to reach Albertsons.

Don Smith, who spent the last two weeks organizing the event, said the 2.5-mile journey represents the 2.5 years it took between the time President Abraham Lincoln announced the Union's objective to free the slaves in early 1863 to the time that black families finally learned of their freedom in the summer of 1865.

"I think Black Lives Matter. I think it is important to stand up with our brothers and sisters. I believe in Martin Luther King Jr.'s America. That is why I am here," Del Doughty said.

Smith agreed.

"I want this event to bring healing and awareness to the injustices in society, and at the same time, I also want this to be a celebration of the contributions that African African Americans brought to the nation," he said. "Juneteenth is the day that African Americans found out they were free and we want to make this a national holiday. This is part of the healing process."

Brandon Barnett said he came out to help get the communities back together.

"I want to have everyone in one accord, and equality passed on to everyone else and to be motivated," he said.

The Pan-African flag is waved while the caravan makes its way down State Line Ave during the Juneteenth parade. The the two-and-a-half-mile route began at the Post Office and ended at Albertsons and symbolized the two and a half years between emancipation and enslaved Texans being freed in 1865.
Photo by Greg Bischof/Texarkana Gazette.

Texarkana's caravan/walk was part of a larger effort known known as Opal Lee's walk.

Lee was born in 1926 in Marshall, Texas, and graduated from a Fort Worth, Texas, school. She married and had a family before attending college and graduating in 1953. She was an educator until her retirement in 1977. Once retired, she became involved in the community, particularly helping the economically disadvantaged find homes. She is also a church school teacher and assistant teacher.

Now 93, she continues her community involvement and leads the annual Fort Worth Juneteenth Celebration. The celebration has become a multiday event under her leadership.

There are 47 states that recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. But in 2016 at age 90, Lee started a walking campaign all across the nation to bring attention and awareness to the need for a National Day of Observance for Juneteenth.

Jackie Jackson, a Greater Texarkana NAACP Community Coordinator Committee member, said she wanted to be a part the local caravan/parade to show her support for making Juneteenth a federal holiday.

Chiquira Burks, president and co-founder of The Scholars said that reaching the end of the 2.5-mile walk felt good. The Scholars is a local youth group of 28 members ranging from ages 9 to 18 and organized in 2014.

"I've done this before, but it has been a while," she said. "We like mentoring and teaching our group about life skills — and freedom, justice and equality are all endowed to us by our Creator."

(Texarkana Gazette reporter Greg Bischof contributed to this story.)

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