RICHMOND, Va -- As protests against racial injustice in Richmond approaches 30 straight days, Cynthia Hudson said many overtly racist laws are technically still in Virginia law books, although not for much longer.
Hudson chairs the Virginia Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia law.
The group released a report last year highlighting nearly 100 provisions in Virginia’ Acts of Assembly, a record of actions taken by the General Assembly each year, that discriminate against black Virginians.
“Though most of these pieces of legislation are outdated and have no legal effect, they remain enshrined in law. The Commission believes that such vestiges of Virginia’s segregationist past should no longer have official status,” the commission’s report released last December read.
“Whether it was housing, transportation, certainly education, voting, health, finances, everything that could be done from a public policy perspective to dehumanize black people and separate black people from white people on the basis of their being less than had been done,” Hudson said in an interview with CBS 6 Wednesday.
Last week, Governor Ralph Northam ceremonially signed several pieces of legislation passed by state lawmakers this year that repeal and remove the old discriminatory laws from the books. Those new pieces of legislation officially take effect July 1.
The Commission’s findings may not have been surprising but were sobering to read for Hudson.
“It’s one thing to know that there was segregation. It’s one thing to know, and for many to have experienced, segregation and the effects of Jim Crow and Massive Resistance, but to actually see the words that enshrine that into law. To know that 140 Senators and Delegates debated that and voted to do it is profoundly sobering, and I cannot articulate how meaningful it was to have a roll in wiping that away.”
Although the Commission began their work long before George Floyd was killed and global protests began, the results of old racist laws, even if they were overturned by the courts or legislature, still echoes in the chants and slogans of protesters now.
“I hope they hear and know that their screams are heard, and that I share their passion,” Hudson said.
That passion her work comes from Hudson’s childhood, which was spent mostly in Nottoway County. During that time in the 1960s and recently integrated schools, Hudson said she was the only black person in her 2nd grade class.
“In Crewe, Virginia, where there was a flag pole with a placard that said proudly dedicated by the Klu Klux Klan. It means everything,” Hudson said. “It should mean the same thing to Virginia that it means to me. That Virginia has given voice to its new heart, its new public policy, its new way of understanding and appreciating the equality of everyone.”
The work of the Commission is not complete. Northam extended the Executive Order, forming it until 2021. Hudson said the group will now train their focus on active Virginia code and discriminatory policies at the agency level.
State lawmakers are expected to return for a Special General Assembly Session in August, and Hudson said the Commission will have a lists of recommendations in the areas of criminal justice and policing.
“We were at the tip of the iceberg, but you have to start somewhere. Quite frankly, that is an immediate and necessary place to start,” she said.
Bills repealing the outdated, discriminatory laws passed both chambers of the General Assembly unanimously.
You can learn more about the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law here.