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Carl D. Perkins: Appalachia’s Voice in Washington

April 20, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Political history

Carl Dewey Perkins served the people of eastern Kentucky as their 7th Congressional District U.S Congressman from 1949 until his death on August 3, 1984 and during those 36 years the Knott County Democrat became one of the most powerful voices in Congress. Born in Hindman, Kentucky on October 15, 1912, Perkins attended local schools and later would go on to earn his law degree and hold several local and state political offices, but it was his time in Washington D.C and his service to the people of his native eastern Kentucky and Appalachia that he will be forever best known for.

Described as a ‘iron horse” for the people of Appalachia it did not take Perkins long to gain national recognition. After taking office as Kentucky’s 7th District Congressman on January 3, 1949, Perkins became an early supporter of civil rights by backing President Harry Truman’s attempt to establish a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission (FPEC) in 1950. A permanent FEPC called for anti-lynching legislation and the abolishment of the Poll Tax among others. The bill was passed by the U.S House but the U.S Senate’s Southern Democrats “filibustered” the bill and it failed in the U.S Senate. Over the next decade Perkins continued to support the call for civil rights in America and he was one of only eleven Southern Democrats to support and vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Also in 1964 Congressman Perkins became a central part of the Lyndon Johnson Administration’s War on Poverty in the U.S Congress. One of those bills was the creation of the U.S Job Corps under the Economic Opportunity Act, the Job Corps provides a free education and training program that helps the youth of America learn a career, earn their high school diploma/ GED, and find a good paying job once completed. Since 1964, Job Corps has served over 2 million young people and currently serves around 60,000 youths throughout the U.S each year. Perkins’ legacy while in Washington would have to be his relentless work for the under-privileged in America, especially eastern Kentucky and Appalachia. He became chairman of the U.S House’s Committee on Education and Labor in 1967 and held that position until his death in 1984. During that time he sponsored and backed many of the modern public schools federal legislation like the free school lunch program and vocational education which is currently known as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006. The federal student loan program or better known as the Perkins Loan also honors his name and has given the opportunity for thousands of Americans to attend college in the U.S. Also Perkins was seen as a strong advocate of the Head Start program in America.

Another lasting legacy that Perkins created was perhaps felt most by the people he served for  those 36 in Congress and that was he never forgot where he came from or who he worked for. He made frequent trips from Washington to the area and knew many of his constitutes by their first name. He stood up for his mountain people and the oppressed in America and never quit until he was satisfied that everyone was getting a fair shake no matter their economic status or background. Congressman Perkins has been decreased for nearly 30 years now, but the impact he made in America, especially in Appalachia will live on for generations to come. Carl D. Perkins’ personal and political papers are stored in the Archives section of the library at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, KY.

Works Cited

Photo Courtesy of WSGS Radio Station, Hazard, Kentucky  www.wsgs.com

www.kentuckystewarts.com/JasperByrd/HTMDocs/CarlPerkins.htm

http://www2.ed.gov/policy/sectech/leg/perkins/index.html

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=SRMhAAAAIBAJ&sjid=YHMFAAAAIBAJ&pg=3614%2C817641

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=XfAaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=UUcEAAAAIBAJ&pg=6492%2C746650

Violence In Selma

April 20, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

Violence In Selma

        In February of 1963 members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee came to Selma, Alabama to inform the local black population about voting, integration, and freedoms.  They were met with distaste from local newspapers and violence from law enforcement.  The intent of local law enforcement was to keep demonstrators quiet and to avoid negative publicity across the country.  The task of taking care of the marches was up to Selma Police Director Wilson Baker and Dallas County Sheriff Tom Clark.  Baker and Clark’s inability to cooperatively handle the marches peacefully was the reason for the civil rights triumph.

         The city was under the new administration of Mayor Joseph Smitherman who was a progressive.  He saw the cotton and agriculture industries depleting and not enough to support the Selma economy.  It became his goal to bring Northern industry to Selma but saw Northern civil rights workers as a problem.  Smitherman came from the lower class and sympathized with them.  He recognized that after Reconstruction black suffrage was a threat white supremacy and would make lower class white citizens equals to blacks, a status whites were unwilling to accept.  With growing civil rights activism in Selma, Smitherman was determined to put city officials in place to deal with the problems.

        

          The two people Smitherman asked to quell the civil rights workers were Baker and Clark.  The two men had different views of how to handle the SNCC members.  Baker was aware of a march that took place two years earlier in Albany, Georgia where marchers were met with non-violence and simply arrested.  There Dr. King was approached with southern kindness and he did not win any momentum or publicity in the demonstration.  Baker was trying to model his dealings with the activism with similar non-violent, quiet actions but Clark had other ideas.  Clark was seen as a “Bull Connor” figure, the symbol of white resistance, and a leader of the crusade for whites in Selma.  He called the organizing of blacks in his county an “emergency” and asked for volunteers to come in and serve as his posse. The disagreement in policy between the two would lead to confusion among law enforcement and the breakdown of official power.

 

          In 1963 only 1% of the 15,000 non-whites were registered to vote.  When SNCC workers knocked on the door of an older black woman in Selma the woman told them she did not know what voting was and if she went down to the courthouse to register, she would have to carry her coffin with her.  Along with SNCC, the SCLC got involved in organizing weekly ward meetings where blacks could have their voices heard.  Clark responded quickly to these meetings by mass arrests, public displays of outrage, and by surrounding the meetings with his posse.  Clark shouted at the civil rights workers, “You are here to cause trouble … You are an agitator and that is the lowest form in humanity.” At one meeting James Bevel ordered sheriff’s posse out of the meeting and the act of defiance spread across the city.  In a stand of heroism Bevel ordered, “We mean to vote and have representation in government … we must be prepared to fight and die …until we get the right to vote.” When the proclamation reached blacks more and more rallied behind voting rights but Clark was embarrassed in his retreat and increased his action.

            The meetings had paid off and the time came for the march from Selma to the capital of Montgomery.  Knowing the possibility of violence from Clark at the march, Baker set up a diversion for him go to the airport that morning and meet with incoming officials.  The marchers were first met by Alabama State Troopers who were on one end of the Edmond Pettus Bridge on horseback.  The troopers pushed marchers back and then Clark showed up unanticipated with his posse of irregular uniformed men as he shouted, “Get those god-damned niggers.” Armed with cattle prods and clubs the posse, along with state troopers, chased the demonstrators out of downtown area.  Viewing the horrific beatings, Baker intervened and urged marchers to go inside to their meeting areas for safety.  Baker could not do anything but watch as cameras captured chaos on camera which would be later tagged, Bloody Sunday.

           There is no question the violence in Selma was incited by racist city officials and the restless actions of Sheriff Clark.  Clark followed the “Do not give an inch” policy and he promoted it among other members of law enforcement.  Thanks to brave civil rights activists and the people of Selma the right to vote was seen around the country. Clark quieted the marchers but could not quiet strength of the larger movement.  Clark activated others through his violence and triggered large scale political action.

Works Cited

Chestnut Jr., J. L., and Julia Cass. Black in Selma. Toronto: Harper & Collins, 1990. Print.

Fager, Charles. Selma, 1965,. New York: Scribner, 1974. Print.

 Lewis, David L. King; a Critical Biography. New York: Praeger, 1970. Print.

 

by dawn

A Lady with Gumption

October 8, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

Georgia Davis Powers was born in a two room wooden shack to Ben and Frances Montgomery. She was born in Springfield, Kentucky. Georgia’s parents did not have a high school education her parents expected her to get married and start a family and that is it.

She was once told by one of her mother’s friends that she was going to grow up and be just like her mother and have a house full of kids. Georgia was furious knowing that was not what she wanted and thought to herself “ How do you know what I’m going to do when I don’t even know yet myself? I do know I’m not gonna be just a house wife with a house full of kids, though!” (I Shared the Dream, 46)

Senator Georgia Davis Powers, 1968

Senator Georgia Davis Powers, 1968, from KET "Living the Story" Picture Gallery

She first got involved with politics when she was hired to help with Wilson Wyatt’s campaign.  Next she became a leader within the Allied Organization for Civil Rights (AOCR), whose purpose was to lobby for a law against discrimination in places of public accommodation. With AOCR she helped organize a march on Frankfort which was attended by both Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1964 to support the passing of this law.

Powers became further involved with politics when she was elected in to the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee. She was then appointed chairman of the Women’s Committee.

In 1966 she decided to campaign to become a Kentucky senator. She was able to get full endorsement from the previous senator Norbert Blume. She ran for Louisville District thirty three that was 65% white. Powers won the primary and then the Senate seat.  Powers was the first African-American (man or woman) elected to the Kentucky Senate. Powers stated before she became a senator that she would like to show that she could do what was good for all people.(I Shared the Dream, 132)

The woman had gumption and nerve not backing down on what she believed in. She was able to pass an open house bill. She proposed and amendment to the Kentucky Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination in the work force based on age or sex.

Georgia Davis Powers is a wonderful woman. She is humorous and does not let anyone keep her down. She fought for what she believed in. Powers was a real person who has faults but was strong. She started off small as a community leader working for campaigns getting to know the people in her community and the leaders. Powers then saw that she could make a difference and she set out to do it even though it seemed such a daunting challenge. She had gumption and did what she thought was right regardless of what people thought.

~~~~

Powers, Georgia Davis. I Shared The Dream. New Jersey: New Horizon Press, 1995.

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