Dave Mistich Published

‘More Work To Do’: Morgantown Becomes First W.Va. Municipality To Ban Racial Discrimination Based On Hair Styles, Textures

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Just hours after a jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota found former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty on three counts in the murder of George Floyd, the city council in Morgantown, West Virginia took its own small step in the fight against racial discrimination.

In an unanimous 7-0 vote Tuesday, the Morgantown City Council became the first municipal government in the state to pass an ordinance known as the CROWN Act, which bans discrimination based on hair styles and textures. The CROWN Act — functioning as an acronym — intends to “create a respectful and open world for natural hair.”

The issue garnered attention in West Virginia following a 2019 incident in which a Beckley student was forced to remove his dreadlocks to play on his high school basketball team.

Some of those who spoke at Tuesday’s city council meeting made mention of broader racial justice issues — particularly Floyd’s May 2020 killing and Chauvin’s trial.

Del. Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia — a Black state lawmaker from Morgantown — opened up the public hearing by making note of Chavin’s conviction.

“I am still emotional from the verdict,” Walker said.

She then linked the verdict in the Chauvin trial to the CROWN Act ordinance that was about to be in front of the city council.

“4/20 is a day that we move America forward in justice of police brutality and 4/20 I pray will be a day where you see me and you protect me — and you accept those kinks and coils and curls that grow naturally from my scalp,” Walker said.

During the course of her comments, Walker made note of a Michigan educator who had cut the hair of a 7-year-old biracial child as proving the need for the CROWN Act’s widespread adoption.

NAACP West Virginia Vice President Katonya Hart, who lives in Charleston, also spoke in favor of the CROWN Act.

“When I visit Morgantown, I can feel safer knowing that this act has been passed by this body of people — that you have drawn a line in the sand to say ‘not here,’” said Hart of Morgantown’s stance against discrimination.

While other municipalities in West Virginia — including Beckley and Charleston — have expressed support of the measure through the adoption of resolutions, efforts to pass a CROWN Act on the state level have stalled in recent years.

During the West Virginia Legislature’s 2021 regular session, those bills failed to get a look in committee in the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

At least seven other states — including California, Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and Washington — have passed the measure.

Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty celebrated the Morgantown council’s work ahead of the vote.

“It’s a privilege to be able to be in the position of doing the next right thing to make everyone in our community and in our really wonderful city feel loved and cared for and welcomed and appreciated — for who they are and what they what they bring to the table — from the tops of their heads to the soles of their feet,” Fetty said.

Jerry Carr, chair of the Morgantown-Kingwood Branch of the NAACP, applauded the passage of the ordinance.

“I’m grateful to be in this space where I feel like we’re actually doing that work. The CROWN Act is one piece,” Carr said.

Carr said he also appreciates the work of Morgantown in establishing a citizen’s review board to investigate complaints against local police. He called on local officials to adopt resolutions supporting federal legislation on voting rights such as HR 1 — known as the For The People Act — and the John Lewis Act, which also focuses on issues related to voting rights.

“I just want to acknowledge that there is more work to do,” Carr said.