Juan Williams: The 'heart and soul' of Juneteenth is about education, historical acknowledgement

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn's bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.is a "really telling moment" about where America is as a country, Fox News contributor Juan Williams stated Friday.

In an interview on "America's Newsroom" with host Sandra Smith, Williams explained the historical significance of the day.

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"[Juneteenth,] initially -- if you go back in history -- was Jubilee Day. And, the whole idea was that it was a celebration of the end of slavery in Texas," he remarked. "But, what happened subsequently as people then began to celebrate not only in Galveston -- which is where the Major General Gordon Granger initially issued the announcement of the end of slavery in Texas two years after President Lincoln's emancipation proclamation -- but then it moved on to Austin, to the state capital, and most of all, to Houston where there is now an Emancipation Park that was the site of a huge, huge Juneteenth celebration in the '70s when this really took off again."

Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia in 1905

Emancipation Day celebration in Richmond, Virginia in 1905 (VCU Libraries)

According to Williams, the day of remembrance had taken a back seat during the early 20th century when black Americans went through the "great migration" in moving away from the South. However, beginning in the 1970s, it became a "celebration of arts, music, and education about acknowledging."

"And, I think now it’s at a peak in some ways," he added. "I think more of corporate America, more states in terms of official recognition, even holidays are recognizing [it]. And, as you said there is now substantial momentum in...Congress to make it a national holiday."

Texas was the first state to make June 19 a state holiday in 1980. Earlier this week, both New York and Virginia honored the day as a state holiday, meaning state employees will receive a paid day off or overtime pay.

Forty-three other states and the District of Columbia recognize the day, but not as a state holiday.

This year marks the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth.

Williams told Smith that the "heart and soul" of Juneteenth is about what the U.S. has learned as a nation.

"So, for a lot of people…I think across racial lines, the acknowledgment of black voice and the black experience has suddenly taken on higher significance, a higher profile in the American conversation. And, that a lot of things that were swept under the rug are now out in the open," he pointed out.

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"Now, one historian said Juneteenth is about educate, but it’s also about celebrate and then agitate. And so, the educate part is to let people know, ‘Hey, this is the root of so much of the racial issue in America. There’s no need to be ashamed of it, no need to run away from it. There's an opportunity to learn from it and to join hands and as Americans, come together and overcome,'" Williams concluded. "In the words of Dr. King, ‘We shall overcome.'"