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June 17, 2024

On Juneteenth: Reflections on African Descendants’ Freedom, Hair, and the Law

Juneteenth commemorates the issuance of the emancipation proclamation for enslaved African descendants in Texas on June 19, 1865. In celebration of Juneteenth — now a federal holiday — the African American Affairs Committee of the ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice host a dynamic webinar exploring the significance of hair to African descendants’ historic and contemporary quests for freedom, justice, equity, and full recognition of personhood within American law and society. Panelists also discuss civil rights legislation, litigation, and policy aimed at redressing race-based natural hair discrimination, infringements upon freedom of expression, the harms of chemical relaxers, alongside contemplating the role of law and corporations in both perpetuating and remediating these harms disproportionately endured by African descendants.

The content of this program does not meet requirements for continuing legal education (CLE) accreditation. You will not receive CLE credit for watching.


  •  Mary L. Smith – President, American Bar Association; Vice Chair, VENG Group; Chair, Caroline and Ora Smith Foundation
  • Robin R. Runge – Chair, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice; Distinguished Professorial Lecturer in Law, The George Washington University Law School; Consultant
  • Tyeesha Dixon – Deputy Counsel to the President of the United States


  •  Chelsie Green – Associate Attorney, Levin Papantonio Rafferty Law
  • Torri Jacobus – Director of Statewide Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, Administrative Office of the Courts, Supreme Court of New Mexico
  • Patricia Okonta – Assistant Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Cary Martin Shelby – Ralph Brill Endowed Chair Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Co-Chair, African American Affairs Committee, ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice


  • D. Wendy Greene – Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Law, Policy and Social Action, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law; Co-Chair, African American Affairs Committee, ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice
  • Elizabeth Paige White – Attorney, EPW Law PLLC; Of-counsel, Ben Crump Law, PLLC; Co-Chair, ABA Women of Color Taskforce; Member, African American Affairs Committee, ABA Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice


PowerPoint Presentation

Natural Hair Discrimination FAQ

Black Hair Belongs Educational Resource

Arnold v. BHISD Complaint

Arnold v. BHISD Preliminary Injunction Opinion

#FreeTheHair website

Racism as a Threat to Financial Stability, 118 Nw. U. L. Rev. 757 (Nov. 2023) | By Cary Martin Shelby

Racism and Systemic Risk, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation (May 11, 2023) | By Cary Martin Shelby

Profiting From Our Pain: Privileged Access to Social Impact Investing, 109 Cal. L. Rev. 1261 (August 2021) | By Cary Martin Shelby

PBS News Hour, How Hair Discrimination Impacts Black Americans in Their Personal Lives and the Workplace

BBC segment, The Tangled History of Black Hair Discrimination in the US

Law 360 Glass Ceiling report, “Wearing Natural Hair in Big Law"

 “The CROWN Act & Transforming the Rules of Professionalism around Black Hair” by Natalie Runyon for Thomson Reuters

John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” segment on Natural Hair Discrimination (beware of expletives)

Chemical hair straighteners linked to higher risk of uterine cancer for Black women, study shows, NBC BLK interview with Char Adams

Washington Post article on the significance of Justice Brown Jackson’s locs

ABA Section on Civil Rights and Social Justice Chair Chat on The CROWN Act

D. Wendy Greene, #FREETHEHAIR: How Black Hair is Transforming State and Local Civil Rights Legislation, 22 Nev. L. J. 1117 (2022)

D. Wendy Greene, Splitting Hairs: The 11th Circuit’s Take on Workplace Bans against Black Women’s Natural Hair in EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, 71 Miami L. Rev. 987 (2017)


D. Wendy Greene, A Multidimensional Analysis of What Not to Wear in the Workplace: Hijabs and Natural Hair, 8 FIU L. REV. 333 (2013)

D. Wendy Greene, Black Women Can’t Have Blonde Hair…in the Workplace, 14 J. Gender Race & Just. 405 (2011)

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