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KY Governors for Desegregation

April 19, 2011 in 1950s-1960s, Political history, Research methods, Uncategorized

Until I started researching on the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and KET websites, I never knew that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson (of the Brooklyn Dodgers)stood on the steps of Kentucky’s State Capital building during the Civil Rights Era.  Civil Rights in Kentucky isn’t taught in many schools like the National Civil Rights movements of the 1950‘s and 60’s. Therefore, I found it interesting to know that people like Happy Chandler and Bert T. Combs made substantial contributions to the Civil Rights movements in Kentucky.

Happy Chandler served as Governor of Kentucky for two separate terms along with serving as a U.S. Senator and as the commissioner for the MLB, where he allowed the integration of blacks such as Jackie Robinson to play professional baseball.  Chandler, as governor faced some disgruntlement with Kentuckians when desegregation came into the Bluegrass; however he stated that “when the Governor takes office, he puts one hand on the Bible and takes an oath before God to protect the humblest citizen.  What we did today is in keeping with the oath I took.” This was after some trouble in two western Kentucky counties where he sent Kentucky State Guards to protect the African American students from the harm of white farmers.  Though Chandler was unsuccessful at keeping these two schools desegregated because they did not have an “orderly process” of desegregation, the children had to wait till the following year when the courts forced the school engage in desegregation.

Bert T. Combs, who succeeded Happy Chandler, also favored desegregation.  Combs appointed Galen Martin as the first Executive Director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.  The CHR was designed to supervise the legal rights of minority groups in Kentucky, looking for civil solutions for racial problem across the state.  Combs also emitted two executive orders that reviewed the states procedures and contracts to eliminate discrimination and also to discourage discrimination in public places including restaurants, hotels, and etc.  The bill did not pass the committee though thousands of people rallied in favor of this bill in Frankfort including Dr Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson; however, after the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Rights Act of 1964 the bill was reinstated into the committee and passed.

I find it amazing how like Bert T. Combs and Happy Chandler have influenced this great state into what it has become.  Kentucky’s desegregation might have not been as harsh as those seen in Alabama or Mississippi, but all-in-all it makes me proud to live  in a state where people like this try to make a difference for the better good.  From my family that grew up in Versailles I have heard many good things about Happy Chandler, but I never heard about his time as the commissioner for MLB.  It makes me wonder that if he wasn’t the commissioner, how long it would’ve taken for the MLB to allow African Americans to play, and if Jackie would’ve still been on the steps of the Capital rallying for the desegregation in Kentucky.


The Governor who got it

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

History is replete with ironies and this report on Edward T. Breathitt highlights it. A former governor of Kentucky (1963-1967) Breathitt oral history is house in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky. Breathitt defeated Nunn for the governorship in a race that could be considered a referendum on the civil rights movement.

Breathitt was born in Hopkinsville, Ky., into a family with a long history in politics. Breathitt County in south eastern Kentucky was named after the 11th governor who was a distant relative. His grand-father James Breathitt sr., was attorney general and one of his uncles James Breathitt jr, was a lieutenant governor.

Breathitt states that he was first consciously aware of segregation when he joined the military. He remembers talking about it with his roommate during his training to be a pilot. His roommate was from Purdue University and grew up in Evansville, IN. across the Ohio River from Henderson, Ky.  They, along with the other whites, were separate from the black cadets. It was happening in his home town but it never dawned on him to before that it was segregation. Years later he would play an important role in helping the civil rights movement in Kentucky.

Breathitt was endorsed for by then governor Bert T. Combs. Combs had signed an executive order desegregating accommodations in Kentucky and Breathitt campaign supported it. Nunn, promised to rescind the order if elected governor. As a governor Breathitt did not support George Wallace’s proposed constitutional amendment to give states and state courts sole jurisdiction over their public schools, preventing a federal law to integrate them. Without His opposition segregated schooling would no doubt have continued in Kentucky for many years

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