When a legislative measure doesn’t neatly fall into one of EPU’s other broader issue areas, we often track that measure under the category of equity. In many instances, these pieces of legislation could also be categorized as measures that affect the narrative and storytelling of the South. 

A core part of EPU’s mission revolves around the need to shift prevailing narratives that perpetuate systemic and interpersonal racism. It is essential to change these narratives to influence people’s attitudes and behaviors positively. As scholars emphasize, without acknowledging the existence of racism, it will persist and continue to undermine our democracy. EPU is committed to providing a platform for these discussions, shedding light on the enduring effects of racism on both individuals and institutions, with the ultimate goal of advancing racial equity.

Juneteenth Legislation

Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is an annual holiday celebrated on June 19th in the United States. It commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the U.S. and marks the day when Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, to announce and enforce General Order No. 3, which proclaimed the freedom of all enslaved people in Texas.

Juneteenth holds significant historical and cultural importance, as it symbolizes the end of slavery in the United States and the realization of freedom and equality for African Americans. It is a day of reflection, education, and celebration of African American heritage and contributions to American society. Juneteenth typically involves various activities such as parades, picnics, historical reenactments, musical performances, and discussions on civil rights and African American history. In 2021, Juneteenth was officially recognized as a federal holiday in the United States, further underscoring its significance in American history.

Following its federal recognition, many states continue to observe Juneteenth as a state holiday or special day of remembrance and celebration, reaffirming its importance in commemorating the end of slavery and promoting African American history and culture. In 2023, both the Alabama (HB 265) and West Virginia (HB 2089) state legislatures had the opportunity to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday following the example set by the federal government and other Southern states, such as Louisiana. Disappointingly, neither state successfully enacted these measures. 

C.R.O.W.N. Act

The C.R.O.W.N. Act, which stands for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair,” is a legislative initiative aimed at addressing and prohibiting hair discrimination in the United States. Hair discrimination involves unfair treatment or bias based on a person’s natural hair texture, style, or protective hairstyles commonly worn by people of African descent.

The C.R.O.W.N. Act seeks to ensure that individuals are protected from discrimination in various settings, including employment, education, and housing, due to their natural hair or hairstyles. It aims to challenge and rectify policies and practices that have historically targeted people of African descent for their hair choices, often forcing them to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.

Several states and municipalities have passed their versions of the C.R.O.W.N. Act, with the goal of promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion by preventing hair discrimination. The specifics of the C.R.O.W.N. Act may vary from one jurisdiction to another, but its overarching purpose is to combat hair-based discrimination and protect individuals’ rights to wear their hair as they choose. 

During the 2023 legislative sessions, Arkansas successfully enacted its own C.R.O.W.N. Act with the passage of House Bill 1576, now prohibiting discrimination based upon natural, protective, or cultural hairstyles in public schools and state-support 2- and 4-year institutions. A similar bill in Florida – Senate Bill 590 – did not meet the same fate and failed to be enacted into law. Legislators in North Carolina sought to enact Senate Bill 168,  prohibiting hair discrimination in the workplace, but the bill has not seen any additional movement since February 2023. 

Commissions on Slavery

Commissions on slavery are essential for several reasons. They facilitate a historical reckoning by acknowledging the deep injustices and suffering inflicted upon enslaved people and their descendants, shedding light on the lasting impact of slavery. These commissions promote truth and reconciliation by creating a space for dialogue and understanding, allowing survivors and affected communities to share their experiences and fostering empathy and healing. Additionally, they play a crucial role in addressing ongoing systemic racism by examining the historical roots of inequality and proposing policy changes to promote racial equity. Furthermore, they contribute to education and public awareness, ensuring that societies are informed about the history and consequences of slavery, and they can set international precedents for addressing historical injustices, exemplifying how societies can confront their past and work towards reconciliation and justice.

Both Georgia and Texas unsuccessfully proposed legislation in 2023 to create such commissions on slavery in those states. Georgia Senate Resolution 424 would have created a state agency known as the Georgia Commission on Slavery, similar to the nearly 40-year-old Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, an agency with a $330,000 annual budget, according to the resolution. Although slavery was prevalent and profitable in Georgia, the bill was never granted a hearing and died upon the adjournment of the legislature in March. In Texas, House Bill 3552 received a similar treatment and also died upon adjournment of that state’s legislature. The Texas Slavery and Segregation Commission, among other duties, would have been tasked with advising and assisting both public and private schools and colleges and universities in implementing courses and awareness programs about slavery and segregation, and would also have evaluated existing memorials, exhibits, or resources related to slavery and segregation that could integrated into these programs.