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Harvard Will Close to Observe Juneteenth Holiday, Bacow Writes

University President Lawrence S. Bacow works out of Massachusetts Hall in the center of Harvard Yard.
University President Lawrence S. Bacow works out of Massachusetts Hall in the center of Harvard Yard. By Sydney R. Mason

University President Lawrence S. Bacow announced Tuesday that Harvard will close to observe Juneteenth. All faculty and staff will receive a full day of paid time off.

Juneteenth — celebrated annually on June 19 — commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed slaves in the Confederacy. Though the proclamation was issued on Jan. 1, 1863, it took until June 19, 1865 for the news to reach Texas.

Bacow wrote in an email to faculty and staff that the holiday offers a “moment to acknowledge and celebrate the promise of a new beginning.”

“I cannot imagine a better year for Harvard to begin recognizing its significance,” he wrote.

This Friday will mark the 155th Juneteenth celebration in the United States.

The announcement comes after weeks of protests over anti-Black racism after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade by police.

“These are extraordinary times distinguished by extraordinary displays of passion and resolve,” Bacow wrote. “We are everywhere reminded of the possibility of something different—something better—for our communities, our states, and our nation, as well as the deep reflection and hard work getting there will require of all of us.”

On June 5, the Harvard Coalition for Black Lives penned a letter to Bacow asking Harvard to take several actions to promote racial justice, including matching donations to support activism, providing pro bono legal defense for detained protesters, divestment from Harvard’s “current policing structures,” and disclosing the University’s relationship with local police.

In the days since, the University announced a new independent review of the Harvard University Police Department.

Bacow wrote that he is “proud” of efforts to “advance the cause of racial justice” at the University. Bacow previously faced criticism for a May 30 email espousing his “beliefs” about the nation without expressing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Each of us has a role to play in considering the past and the present as we work together to imagine our future, and I am proud to undertake that important—and essential—work with all of you,” Bacow wrote.

—Staff writer Camille G. Caldera can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @camille_caldera.

—Staff writer Michelle G. Kurilla can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @MichelleKurilla.

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