One of Juneteenth’s most prolific distortions is that June 19, 1865 marks the day slavery ended in the United States. This falsehood is continuously promoted by Juneteenth advocates in and out of Texas, including the United State Congress. When worded that way, the description is unconditionally wrong. Lawful slavery in the United States did not end on June 19th. More accurately, on that date, General Gordon Granger began enforcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Texas. Thereby, Texas became the last “state in rebellion” forced to emancipate enslaved Africans.
Slavery continued to be lawful in two of the five slave-holding states that President Lincoln exempted from his proclamation. In those two states, lawful slavery ended when the Constitution was amended for the thirteenth time.
Therein lies another error. Congressional approval of the bill authorizing a thirteenth Constitutional amendment did not make the bill an actionable law. Rather, their approval merely made the bill a proposed amendment. The proposal did not become an actual amendment until it received ratification from the required number of states. That is why slavery remained legal beyond June 19th, in two of the five exempted states. That happened six months after Juneteenth.
Here is the quandary. Describing Juneteenth as “the date slavery ended” is wrong, but saying the holiday celebrates “the end of slavery” is correct. The slightly changed wordings have immensely different meanings. The correct wording identifies Juneteenth as a composite celebration of slavery’s multiple endings. Essentially, the holiday celebrates that slavery ended, not when it ended.
Failure to acknowledge this seemingly minor detail discounts and flat out ignores the people who continued to be lawfully enslaved after June 19th. Not only is not only wrongheaded, it unacceptably defeats Juneteenth’s fundamental message, embodied in the freedmen’s lyrics which Dr. King immortalized: “Free at last, I’m free at last. Thank God almighty, I’m free at last.”
By the way, people worldwide have heard those famous words, but precious few can sing the song. Head over to the music department and listen to the melody and an arrangement.