You are browsing the archive for Governor Edward T. Breathitt.

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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