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Reflections on an Internship: Women in Kentucky Politics

February 16, 2014 in 1960s-1970s, Political history

Elisabeth Jensen for CongressLast semester, I had the opportunity to intern with Elisabeth Jensen, a woman running to be the next Congresswoman of the 6th congressional district, which includes Lexington, Frankfort, and Richmond. I heard of this opening through the internship coordinator from my summer internship with Congressman John Yarmuth. She had told me about the importance of empowering women in politics and encouraged me to get involved with Elisabeth’s campaign.

I knew that this internship would be different from when I worked with Congressman Yarmuth in Louisville, mainly because Elisabeth was new to politics and had decided to enter the race only in May of last year—a few months before I started my internship. She did not have much experience in politics at all; in fact, she had previously worked with Disney and in merchandising.  Nonetheless, I could tell that Elisabeth was passionate about running and it seemed that she believed in helping the district. Currently, she is the director and president of Race for Education, a non-profit in Lexington that provides scholarships and educational services for those in financial need. Elisabeth was also a graduate of Emerge Kentucky, a program in Louisville that provides classes and workshops for women interested in running for a political position.

Elisabeth Jensen and son Will

Elisabeth Jensen, at home with her nine-year old son, Will

Since women are underrepresented in politics, I wanted to know if Elisabeth had dealt with any negativity during the campaign. Interestingly, she explained that the Lexington Democrat community has been very supportive of her and she has not faced any animosity because she is a woman or because of her lack of political experience. She also said she was aware of the feeling towards women in politics and has actually faced more sexism while working in the business world.

Women in Kentucky politics have been increasing in recent years. Programs like Emerge have been instrumental in training and empowering women to take on government jobs. During the civil rights area, African-American women such as Georgia Davis Powers and Mae Street Kidd were part of the few who dared to go down a predominately white, male-dominated career path in which very few women, or African-American women at that, seemed bold enough to do. Nonetheless, the charisma these women had certainly helped to influenced the civil rights in Kentucky. Currently, there aren’t very many African-American women in politics, but women such as Governor Martha Layne Collins and Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes are representing a new generation that can continue to serve as torchbearers and role models for younger women hoping to one day make an impact in politics.

Alison Lundergan Grimes

Kentucky Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes (photo from Wikipedia)

It is interesting that Elisabeth was running with two other Democratic candidates—both of whom dropped out of the race in November of last year—who were men, making her the only woman running on the Democratic ticket for Andy Barr’s position. I think it takes much audacity and strength for her to continue in the race and it is clear that Representative Andy Barr’s experience and expensive campaign certainly won’t scare her away.

In terms of the internship itself, I learned a lot about the campaigning side of politics. I think it is probably the toughest part, especially when it is your first election, which makes fundraising a bit more challenging when trying to make a name for yourself. It is helpful that other women before Elisabeth have made the effort less taxing, perhaps providing motivation and encouragement knowing that even African-American women were capable of achieving feats that no one ever thought could be accomplished.

Fair Housing Proclamation Trip

April 11, 2013 in Economic history, Primary source, Social history

John Johnson speaking about the fair housing proclamation

John Johnson speaking about the fair housing proclamation; photo from @rhollingsworth twitter feed

Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure about what to expect in our trip to Frankfort, but I think overall it was an enjoyable trip and a great way to see what we are studying come to life within the rotunda of the capital.

When we first talked to the Commissioner of Kentucky Women, we got a really good glimpse of what the struggle was in Kentucky for powerful women in Kentucky and how it was not uncommon for these amazing women to be overlooked simply because they were women.

dolls of first ladies of Kentucky

First Ladies In Miniature

The exhibit of the portraits of the women and even with the dolls of the women are wonderful tribute to their impact, but even the commissioner called for more; more portraits, statues, and recognition.

The proclamation of the 45th anniversary of the fair housing act was also a powerful thing to witness because we were able to see the level of pride that both blacks and whites who have grown up in the fair housing association in Kentucky had for the progress that has been made here in Kentucky. It was also amazing to hear the references of the powerful women that influenced the movement, like Georgia Davis Powers and Mae Street Kidd, completely unprompted. It really made history come alive for me. It also increased my awareness of the impact that woman made in the lives of future generations. Although we saw that these women were constantly under-appreciated, their impact on Kentucky today is entirely clear.

I Shared The Dream: Georgia Davis Powers & Others

March 31, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Oral history, Political history, Social history

After reading Georgia Davis Powers’ autobiography, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky, my group led a book discussion on the most important themes and events addressed in the book. Most prominently, my group agreed that Georgia Davis Powers sought to portray herself as a real woman, someone who faces adversity and obstacles and makes conscious choices regarding her life which may not be seen in the public eye. In the book, Powers addresses her life and achievements but also her personal reflections on situations and relationships that had not been published until this book was written. My class has studied numerous influential women in Kentucky during the Civil Rights Movement and was able to draw important similarities between Senator Powers and other major figures.

The charts below represent a comparison of Georgia Davis Powers, Mae Street Kidd, and one other prominent figure of the student’s choosing. These diagrams intend to show relationships among the female leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky as well as highlight key differences in their tactics and methodology.

Scan0006 Scan0007 Scan0008  Scan0011 Scan0010

Scan0009

 

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Mae Street Kidd, Passing for Black

February 21, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Oral history, Political history, Primary source, Social history

Passing for Black

The Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd

Wade Hall

Mae Street Kidd was a determined, independent woman that defied the boundaries of race and ignored the restrictions of gender. To Mrs. Kidd, personal image was significant in presenting who you were and what you wanted to accomplish. She was a tireless force that allowed those around her to keep her motivated to do her best. She demanded the best from everyone, because that is what she gave of herself.

Career

Education: Lincoln Institute

From her first job at the age of 17, Mae Street Kidd took a stand and advertised her skills to the world, demanding that she be given a chance.

Mae worked at Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company, which was one of the most popular insurance companies for African Americans of the time. She worked as a saleswoman, selling policies and collecting premiums. Promoted to file clerk, then continued up the ladder, becoming the supervisor of policy issues.

Kidd states in Passing for Black that it does not matter where she lived, as long as she likes her work.

Helped several different companies pioneer Public Relations departments, creating goodwill between the companies and their communities. She was among the first to develop the field of Public Relations, and the skills she gained would help her to later win elections.

Following her return from being stationed overseas with the Red Cross, Mammoth Insurance refused to allow her to take control of the Public Relations Department that she created. She was forced to return to an entry level position as a saleswoman. In this position, she sold more insurance than anyone else ever had.

“I’ve got too many guts in me to let you embarrass me. I will do the dirty job you give me better than anybody ever did it — and better than you ever dreamed I could” (Passing for Black p 51).

Retired in 1966 at the age of 62 before pursuing her political career.

Overall, Mae helped to build up many companies run by blacks for the black community. She helped to turn Mammoth Insurance into the large and profitable company it became, and helped many companies create relationships with their communities through Public Relations.

Social Impact

born to an absent father and a multiracial mother she was led into an ambiguous view of race (in herself and others) and also considered it irrelevant.In the midst of segregation and violence, Kidd’s childhood was presented as wonderful and peaceful (recounts going to hat and dress stores and being allowed to shop there even though her mother was black).

her father not being there created her independence from men which translated to her attitude in her two marriages: “I loved my husbands but I didn’t really need them.” This was obviously unique for the time.

appearance was very important; she was always considered very good-looking and made sure she looked put together at all times. Weird how appearance was so important yet she cared very little about race….She also believed that everyone should be treated the same regardless of gender or race. She was very proud (page 51).

She expected the best work from everyone around her just as she gave her best in everything she did.

Finally, although she respected others, she never let anyone around her allow her to feel inferior. Ex: when she told her brother’s superior officer to relocate him closer to her. or when she decided she wasn’t going to go somewhere hot for her overseas service. Or when she came back to her job at Mammoth and was replaced and she gave her boss a piece of her mind. Never was she intimidated by authority figures, white or otherwise.

“We’re gonna solve today’s problems by strengthening the family first.” page 148 Her interactions with her step-sister shows her encouraging words on acting like a lady.

Political Career

“Lady of the House” from 1968-1975. Served in Kentucky General Assembly in Frankfort as a representative from Louisville’s 41st district.

Reluctantly Joined the world of politics. First black woman in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Open Housing Bill: introduced in senate by Georgia Powers, prohibits discrimination by reason of race, color, religion or national origin in sale or rental of housing, gave Kentucky Human Rights commission power to enforce the law.

1970, bill passed to provide mortgage loans for low income people.

Ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, along with Georgia Powers in 1976. Most proud of this accomplishment. Same year as the Bicentennial- it was important to her that she was American above all else, regardless of race or gender.

Considers her political activities the capstone of her career.

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“Lukey” Ward

December 10, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history, Social history

Lucretia “Lukey” Ward was different from most affluent, white women in Louisville, KY. Ms. Ward took a stand against the inequalities in Louisville, KY and all over the South. Like her friend, Senator Georgia Davis Powers, Ward believed in the equality for all; African Americans, women, children, and the poor. She became active in politics, vying for the candidates who believed in the same equalities as she did and also in many activist groups. Together, Ward and Senator Powers founded the Allied Organization for Civil Rights, along side Alfred Daniel (A.D.) Williams King, the brother of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Throughout her career as an activist, she participated in countless marches, which were fundamental to bringing change to Kentucky and the United States. The two most mentioned marches she was a part of were the march on Frankfort taking place March 4, 1964 in which Martin Luther King Jr. and J. Robinson were in attendance of, as well as the March in Selma, AL in March of 1965. Ward continually devoted her time to local marches in Louisville, in which their main goal was to grant open housing for all. Along with co-founding the Allied Organization for Civil Rights, she also co-founded the Louisville chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Nationally, the organizations first president was Dr. Martin Luther King, who she had knew personally in the last several years of his life. Lukey Ward continued her activism for equal rights all throughout her life. Her son, Mike Ward, became a U.S. Congressman.

She Shared A lot More Than The Dream

December 6, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

Georgia Davis Powers is and forever will be one of the most remarkable persons to have held a seat in the Kentucky Senate. She was honored for her contribution to the State by having a part of I-264 named after her earlier this year. Her push for equality in the state of Kentucky and by extension, the country is legendary but her connection to the noted civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King jr is what many would remember. Her book “I Shared The Dream” was written to clear up some misconceptions and misinformation about her relationship with Dr. King among other things.

In the book Senator Davis Powers is quite candid on a number of issues, the least of which are her past infidelities. Not many autobiographies are written with such candor. She warded off advances that she deemed inappropriate and succumbed to others that she knew was not the best thing to do. What some believe is still a question in many hearts and minds are how close her relationship with Dr. King was.

The book leaves a lot to be desired. Maybe there is more to come in the future because having heard from and spoken to this 87 year old firebrand, there has to be more in store for the eagerly awaiting public.

Senator Georgia Davis Powers has been honored with at least two honorary degrees from universities in Kentucky and there are more honors on the way.

To get a glimpse of her life, listen to her story on KET’s website and read her book.

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The Common Goal of Civil Rights

December 1, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Political history

Front cover of "I Shared the Dream"I think that when looking at civil rights activists and important women and men in history, sometimes their personal life gets in the way of what they were/are fighting for.  Senator Powers is a very influential woman for many reasons, other than just her affair with King, that led to the publishing of I Shared the Dream.  Yet, we seem to focus in on the fact that she was in the midst of an extramarital affair.  The fact that they were working towards a common goal of civil rights and equality should be the focus of their affair.  The fact that they decided to further that relationship should be their own business and not overshadow the accomplishments that either of them achieved.

Senator Powers served 21 years in the Senate and was the first African American woman to achieve this.  She also continuously fought to pass legislation for equal rights.  Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Powers were allies working for the same cause to better our nation.  I think as a nation sometimes the work that individuals do for the good of the people is not as interesting to some as a sex scandal.  This isn’t the nation’s fault, it’s just how our media and society portray events and tell us what should be significant in our culture.  I would like to think that most individuals see how truly influential these two people are to our society and overlook other factors that have a small significance when looking at achievements.

~~~

See also

“Georgia Davis Powers,” Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky, Kentucky Educational Television <http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_powers.htm>.

“Georgia Davis Powers,” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, University of Kentucky Libraries <http://www.uky.edu/Libraries/NKAA/record.php?note_id=1148>.

Busing and school desegregation in Louisville

October 16, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Political history, Primary source, Social history

All Aboard!!

In her book I Shared the Dream (pages 268-271) former Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers relates an anecdote about her legislative experience. She states that after Federal Judge James Gordon ordered the Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) to begin busing students to integrate schools she had a major argument with then governor Julian Carroll about it. The House members passed a bill prohibiting the use of state funds to purchase the necessary buses. Senator Davis secured enough votes to defeat the bill so the governor contacted her about supporting it. His reasoning, which she believed was not genuine, was to get the federal funds to pay for the added expenses associated with busing. She released those who had pledged to their support telling them to “just vote your conscience.” The bill was passed delaying integration of the district.

Senator Powers then wrote that one Helen Bland, speaking at a rally in support of integration, summed up the issue of busing as far as her experience was concerned. This is too good not to be stated in Bland’s own words:

     “Lord, what is it with this bus? When I was growing up in rural Alabama, we weren’t allowed to ride the bus. Rain or shine we had to walk five miles to school, and when the bus carrying the white children passed, we had to scramble up weed-filled banks to keep from having mud splashed all over us.
     “
Then, I moved to Montgomery and Blacks were boycotting the buses, so I still couldn’t ride. Finally, I moved to Louisville where I raised my children and they again walked to school in the neighborhood, even though it was more than a mile- a long walk bad weather. Then, along came the Court order, and they said my children had to ride the bus. They did, and they liked the bus, and got along well at the school they went to. Now, somebody’s trying to turn back the clock and put them off the bus again.
     “
I said, ‘Lord, what is it with this bus? When is it going to stop plaguing my life?’”

~~~
Other Resources

Tracy E. K’Meyer, Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky 1945-1980. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

YouTube logo
WLKY archive: Bob Whitlock reports on Louisville bus riots in 1975

See also the television coverage of 1975 street riots in Louisville including members of the Ku Klux Klan protesting the use of busing to facilitate the desegregation of the public schools in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

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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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