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UL Lafayette declares Juneteenth a University holiday for the first time

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For the first time, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette will observe Juneteenth as an official University holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day – June 19, 1865 – that enslaved Black people living in Galveston, Texas, learned of their freedom.

June 19 is a Saturday this year, but UL Lafayette will observe Juneteenth on Friday, June 18. Campus will be closed, and no classes will be held, Dr. Joseph Savoie, University president, announced Thursday.

“This is the first year the University will mark Juneteenth as an official holiday, but it is more than a ‘day off.’ Rather, it is an opportunity to reflect on our shared history and on the barriers that separate us from the more equitable society we seek,” Savoie said. 

Beginning at noon on Saturday, June 19, the Stephens Hall chimes and the Victory Bell at Cajun Field will each ring 19 times to mark Juneteenth. The University commemorated the day similarly last year, noted Dr. Taniecea A. Mallery, UL Lafayette’s executive director of Strategic Initiatives and chief diversity officer.

“Juneteenth is one of the most significant moments in American history. It marked an ending and a beginning – the end of slavery in the United States, but the beginning of Black Americans’ long struggle to achieve true freedom through racial equality and social justice.”

On June 19, 1865, following the end of the Civil War, enslaved Black people in Texas first learned of their freedom from bondage.

President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation two and a half years earlier, but slaves living in the then-Confederate states remained unaware of their freedom until Union troops arrived to enforce the order.

Texas was the last former Confederate state to have the proclamation announced. The adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution officially abolished slavery in the United States in December 1865.  

More than 155 years after it first occurred, Juneteenth continues to resonate as “a day of reflection,” Mallery said.

“Observing Juneteenth offers the University a moment to acknowledge the challenges Black Americans still face. We can honor that struggle by affirming our commitment to creating an environment that respects – and draws strength from – difference.”

UL Lafayette’s Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence guides the University’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

The plan was crafted over the course of a year by the Office for Campus Diversity and the Diversity Advisory Council, a group of faculty, staff, students and community partners. It was approved in late 2019.  

Savoie encouraged members of the University community to read the plan “and consider ways you can help achieve its goal to foster a campus environment that finds strength in difference and where everyone is welcomed and valued.”

“Juneteenth offers an opportunity for the University to affirm its commitment to building such a community,” he said. 

Read Savoie’s full message to the University community here.

Photo caption: Beginning at noon on Saturday, June 19, the Stephens Hall chimes and the Victory Bell at Cajun Field will each ring 19 times to mark Juneteenth. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)