Beshear executive orders protect Black hair, make Juneteenth state holiday

Published 1:05 pm Monday, May 27, 2024

FRANKFORT — After a legislative session centered around a failed attempt to ban diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives from college campuses, Gov. Andy Beshear made his stance clear.

Thursday, in a packed Capitol rotunda, Beshear signed two executive orders protecting and celebrating diversity. The first established June 19 as Juneteenth National Freedom Day. The second mirrored the C.R.O.W.N. Act, which bans discrimination based on hairstyles historically associated with race.

“We oppose discrimination in all of its forms and we’re willing to listen,” Besher said. “Even when we might not see or notice it doesn’t mean that it is not absolutely real…I want people to know when they come to work for the Commonwealth of Kentucky that we care about them, we respect them.”


About two-and-a-half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, meant to end slavery, African Americans remained enslaved in parts of the U.S.

So when federal troops reached Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865, after the end of the Civil War, they shared the news of freedom.

Ever since, June 19 has been a day “symbolizing both elation and a solemn reminder of struggles and achievements of African Americans,” said Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville.

In 2021, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday. Since, 28 states have followed suit with their own declarations. Despite trying for three years, Neal’s attempt to pass similar legislation in Kentucky has failed.

Neal said the state house would unanimously approve, but the state senate is blocking the effort.

Louisville and Lexington’s mayors have passed city-level declarations of Juneteenth as an official holiday. Thursday, Franklin County Judge Executive Michael Mueller joined them, signing an executive order recognizing it as a holiday in Franklin County.

“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see,” Mueller said. “…Days like today are how we grow as society into a better version of ourselves.”

C.R.O.W.N. Act

In 2019, Dove and the CROWN Coalition began an effort to protect natural Black hairstyles from discrimination—Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.

Protective hairstyles include natural hairstyles like braids, locks and twists that are often used to keep Black hair healthy. However, natural Black hairstyles are often sources of discrimination in workplaces and school settings.

According to the CROWN Coalition’s 2023 workplace study, Black women’s hair is 2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional, and Black women with oily or textured hair are twice as likely to experience microaggressions than Black women with straighter hair.

Since 2020, Kentucky lawmakers have filed 10 separate bills to make the CROWN Act law in the Commonwealth. The law would ban discrimination based on traits historically associated with race, like hair texture and protective hairstyles.

The most recent bill, filed by Neal, included a clarification that the CROWN Act would not prevent “reasonable” workplace and school policies enforcing safety and health standards.

All bills have failed, and only one—filed by Republican Sen. Whitney Westerfield in 2023—ever made it to a committee vote.

This year, the CROWN Act was one of only two proposed Senate bills to not be assigned a committee. The other was Hadley’s Law, which would have added limited abortion exceptions to Kentucky’s near ban.

Melinda Wofford, assistant director at the Transportation Cabinet, shared her thoughts on Beshear’s executive order.

“The way my hair looks is not a reflection of my work ethic,” she said. “It’s definitely not a reflection of my character. This order makes possible the freedom needed for me to continue to wear my hair in its natural state, the state that God blessed me with, without fear of discrimination in the workplace.”

Anti-DEI measures

Beshear’s executive orders come after a heated legislative session featuring at least two anti-DEI bills, Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 9.

The latter was added to the former in a last-minute switch, which led to its surprise failure in the final days of session. The amended Senate Bill 6 would have required Kentucky colleges and universities to eliminate all diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, offices and positions.

It also would have prevented institutions from using race, religion, sex, color or national origin to provide different treatment or benefits in hiring, admissions, recruitment, promotion, contracts, housing, financial assistance or scholarships.

The bill also prohibited promotion of “discriminatory concepts”—those “presenting as truth, rather than as a subject for inquiry, that an existing structure, system, or relation of power, privilege, or subordination persists on the basis of oppression, colonialism, socioeconomic status, religion, race, sex, color, or national origin.”

Proponents said the legislation was necessary  to prevent discrimination based on someone’s views on or experience with religion, race, sex, color or national origin.

Opponents argued the bill itself was discriminatory, and would reverse hard-earned progress.

Thursday, ahead of Juneteenth, Beshear said it is Kentuckians’ responsibility to reflect upon one of the “ugliest chapters” in history and its lasting impact on today’s world.

“We must look at it straight on and not hide from our own history, even the parts that are painful,” he said. “Instead, we recognize it, we attempt to learn from it and we work to repair the lasting damage and heal our nation’s wounds so we can make progress for a better tomorrow.”