Colleges Falsely Claim Juneteenth Was ‘The Day Slavery Ended in the U.S.’

by Hans Bader

Many colleges and progressives are claiming that Juneteenth — June 19, 1865 — was “the day slavery ended” in the U.S. But slavery actually remained legal in Kentucky and Delaware until December 6, 1865, the day the Thirteenth Amendment’s ban on slavery went into effect.

Yale University has a web site titled, “Juneteenth: Remembering the day slavery ended in the U.S.” Similarly, Bill Nye, the self-proclaimed “science guy,” claimed that “the last” slaves “were not freed (officially) until June 19, 1865.”

These claims are not true. As the London Daily Mail notes, the last slaves were not legally freed until six months later, when “the 13th Amendment fully prohibited the owning of slaves, spurring states such as Kentucky and Delaware – where it had still been legal – to cease the practice.” Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only declared slaves free if they were held in areas that had been controlled by Confederate rebels, not in slave states that remained loyal to the union, such as Delaware and Kentucky.

Twitter users pointed out to Nye that the “Emancipation Proclamation didn’t cover” slave states that didn’t join the Confederacy, and that “Actually, the final slaves weren’t freed in Kentucky and Delaware until the 13th Amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865.” (Nye, a left-leaning TV personality, is not a scientist.)

It is easy to see how Nye, who is also not an historian, got this wrong (although he should have corrected his error). It is much harder to understand how Yale University got this basic historical fact wrong. Yale has a history department, and someone in it should have pointed out that Yale was mistaken to claim that Juneteenth was “the day slavery ended in the U.S.”

I was accurately taught in both grade school and college that slavery did not legally end in America until December 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery even in the border states. But today, as progressives teach what they call “honest history,” this basic historical fact has apparently been forgotten.

Many Virginia colleges have left the false impression with students that Juneteenth ended slavery in America. The University of Virginia told students that “Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States, marking the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Texas, the last of the former Confederate states to abolish slavery, and brought news that the war had ended and enslaved African Americans were free.”

By saying that “Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States,” UVa leaves the misleading impression that on June 19 slavery ended in America. It would be more accurate to say that “Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in Texas,” which is why Juneteenth was made a state holiday in Texas in 1980, more than 40 years before it became a national holiday.

But the College of William and Mary similarly claims that Juneteenth “marks the end of slavery in the United States.”

This is one example of how the teaching of history has been less accurate over time.

Many progressives think conservatives oppose the teaching of “honest history.” But I grew up in a conservative county that voted for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan in presidential elections, and I was taught honest history — that slavery caused the Civil War, and that the mistreatment of Black people did not end with emancipation, but continued under Jim Crow, lynchings, and segregation. I was taught graphically about the evils of slavery, such as being shown images of a Black man whose back was a mass of ugly scar tissue from a savage whipping. I was taught about how a racist White mob destroyed “Black Wall Street” in the Greenwood district of Tulsa. Blacks rebuilt Greenwood after it was destroyed, but it came to an end decades later due to “urban renewal.”

I was taught a more nuanced, accurate history. I was taught that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, and that this was a grave moral wrong. But I was also taught that Jefferson supported a 1782 Virginia manumission law allowing slave owners to free slaves, over much public opposition, and that as a Virginia legislator, he had supported legislation in 1778 to ban the importation of slaves into Virginia. Today, these relevant details do not appear to be taught to Virginia students like my daughter.

I was taught a much more accurate version of Native American history than today’s students. I was taught about how the Iroquois exterminated a neighboring tribe, the Huron, killing almost all of its 30,000 men, women, and children. My daughter never learned this in her history classes in Arlington.

Torture was a commonplace practice among Native Americans. As Nathaniel Knowles of the University of Pennsylvania noted in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, “The Indians of eastern North America evinced great emotional satisfactions from the prolonged tortures often inflicted on war captives.” As True West Magazine notes,

Long before the Euro-Americans arrived, Indian tribes were constantly at war with one another. Captives were often put to death. While being tortured, they were expected to show self-control, bragging of their prowess as a warrior, showing defiance and singing their ‘death songs.’ These were public events and the entire village attended, including the children.

But thanks to woke textbooks that falsely depict Indian tribes as peaceful environmentalists, members of Generation Z think Indian tribes lived in harmony with each other before the wicked White man arrived. At least 70 percent of Zoomers agree with the false statement: “Prior to the arrival of the European settlers, Native American/ Indigenous tribes lived in peace and harmony.” Only about 40 percent of Boomers believe this.

The belief among some progressives that students are not being taught about the negative aspects of U.S. history is unfounded. In fact, so much attention is devoted to historical evils such as slavery that “4 out of 10 Gen Z’ers believe that the founders of the United States are better described as villains than as heroes. Somewhere along the line, a significant portion of young adults developed the idea that America’s founders were more evil than good,” notes psychology professor Jean M. Twenge in her book, Generations.

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at