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Kentucky governor takes action on Juneteenth holiday and against discrimination based on hairstyles

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Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear designated Juneteenth as a holiday for state executive branch workers on Thursday and expanded protections in state hiring and employment by banning discrimination based on hairstyles.

The separate executive orders signed by the Democratic governor represented his latest outreach to Black Kentuckians — but also reflected limits to that outreach.

Beshear, seen as a rising Democratic star, took the actions after efforts to make Juneteenth a statewide holiday and outlaw discrimination based on hairstyles failed in the state’s Republican-supermajority legislature.

“After years of inaction, I’ve decided I can no longer wait for others to do what is right,” said Beshear, who was joined by Black lawmakers as he signed the orders in the state Capitol in Frankfort.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they had been freed — two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued during the Civil War. For generations, Black Americans have recognized Juneteenth. In 2021, President Joe Biden signed legislation establishing it as a federal holiday.

One Beshear order declares that starting this year, Juneteenth will be observed as a state executive branch holiday. All executive branch offices will be closed.

Beshear described Juneteenth as a celebration of progress but said it also “serves as a strong reminder of our responsibility as Americans and the work that still remains to be done.”

“This is an important day in our history as Americans,” he said. “One where we stand united in acknowledging our past and our nation’s greatest injustice. A day when we honor the strength and courage of African-Americans and the contributions they have made and continue to make for our country.”

Legislation to make Juneteenth a Kentucky holiday was introduced this year by state Sen. Gerald Neal, the chamber’s top-ranking Democrat. It made no headway before the session ended last month. Neal, who is Black, signaled Thursday that he will try again in the 2025 session.

The other executive order expands protections in state hiring and employment by prohibiting discrimination based on “traits historically associated with race, including but not limited to natural hair texture and protective hairstyles, such as braids, locks and twists.”

Protections are needed because the state has a “diverse workforce full of talented, hard-working Kentuckians from all different backgrounds,” the governor said. “That’s what makes us special.”

Bills to ban discrimination based on hairstyles at work and school have died in recent legislative sessions, the governor’s office noted.

Melinda Wofford, a graduate of the Governor’s Minority Management Trainee Program who is an assistant director at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, thanked the governor for “embracing the individuality represented in our great commonwealth.”

“Acknowledging cultural uniqueness is a strength, which provides peace in the world, where everyone should feel comfortable and confident in reaching their full potential without fear of having to remove their crown,” said Wofford.

In March, Beshear marched with other Kentuckians to commemorate the 60th anniversary of a landmark civil rights rally that featured Martin Luther King Jr. in the state’s capital city. They retraced the steps of the civil rights icon and 10,000 others who joined the 1964 March on Frankfort to call for legislation to end discrimination and segregation in the Bluegrass State.

Beshear has included Black executives in his inner circle as governor and previously as state attorney general. He has pointed to his administration’s record of supporting the state’s historically black colleges and universities and for expanding health care and economic opportunities in minority neighborhoods.

Beshear also led the successful push to remove a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a Kentucky native, from the state Capitol Rotunda.

By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press

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