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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.


Josephine Henry; dedicated activist

December 9, 2010 in 1960s-1970s

From her earliest days Josephine Henry worked for human rights, especially for women. One of her goals was to get the state of Kentucky to recognize women as their own person once they were married. In 1890 Kentucky was the only state left in the United States where a married women had no right to own any property. This includes clothes, land property, and even wages that a married woman made. Unfortunately this was actually still a law in Kentucky so she worked hard to change that.

In 1894 she succeeded in her many years of lobbying when the Kentucky legislature passed the Married Woman’s Property Act. This act gave women in Kentucky who were married the right to purchase property, keep their own wages and to be able to write a will of their own. Josephine Henry was able to accomplish this task by attending and speaking in front of the General Assembly and even the members of the 1890 Constitutional Convention. After getting attention spread throughout the state, the act was able to be formed and passed into law for the state of Kentucky. This is so important because of the new laws that allowed women more rights and control of their own lives and continued the larger national efforts for woman’s suffrage.

For more information, see the University of Kentucky Libraries, Special Collections and Archives
Laura Clay papers accession #46M4
Madeline McDowell Breckinridge papers accessing #52M3 and #60M49

See also:
– Close, Harriet M. (23 February 1908). “Mrs. Josephine K. Henry”. Blue Grass Blade (Lexington, Kentucky): pp. 2. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
– Dew, Aloma. “Josephine Kirby Williamson Henry,” pages 80-81 in Kentucky Women: Two Centuries of Indomitable Spirit and Vision. Eugenia K. Potter, ed. Louisville: Big Tree Press, 1997.
Marylynn Salmon, Women and the Law of Property in Early America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

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.

More than Just a Senator

December 6, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Economic history, Intellectual history, Political history, Primary source, Social history

Georgia Davis Powers was extremely influential for all women and the African American community through her actions and life. She became the first African American to hold a seat in the Senate and she became the first women to hold a seat in the Senate. Powers had to cross not only the racial barriers of the time, but also the gender barriers because she is a black women. Georgia Davis Powers was born in Springfield, Kentucky on October 19, 1923 and she was born a natural leader.

Prior to her political careear that begun in 1967, Georgia Davis Powers was extremely involved in the civil rights movement for all African Americans. She led many small movements through out Kentucky for several years until 1964. In 1964 she was able to convince Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson to come to Kentucky for a march on the state capital of Frankfort. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s brother was a minister in Louisville and was able to help organize the march on Frankfort with Georgia Davis Powers.

Three years after the march, Powers was elected to the United States Senate, where she remained a senator for five consecutive terms, or for 21 years. She is quoted in saying that she looked at her senate years as a “mission” to accomplish as many things for equality among all people. She also credits god for giving her the strength to continue on through her mission for equality throuhg out her life and political careear.

Senator Powers also traveled to Memphis in April of 1968 at the request of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was present at the hotel when he was shot. In an interview of Senator Powers she retells the story and speaks of the iincident in which she was standing over the body and King and realized that he was dead. She has forever been a living example of how people should live their lives. Her devotion for equality amongst races and gender took her to heights few people have been to. Georgia Davis Powers was and still is a great leader for equality and for the civil rights movement and she will forever be remembered as one of the most influential and great women of all time.

Information also gathered from December 2, 2010 meeting with Mrs. Powers at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center on the University of Kentucky campus for  the “Sisters in the Struggle” video demonstartion.

Women Using Business to Reach Equality

December 6, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Economic history, Political history

An argument about how women would receive equality during the early 1900’s and before the beginning of the civil rights movement and the womens rights movment, some women believed it could be reached by acquiring equality in the finiancial world first. This meant women owning businesses, running bussiness and operating equally on an economic scale with the men in local society. This would be no easy task to accomplish, but many women continued to follow their dream until they either were respected wealthy women who were seen as equal to the men around them or until they failed and were forced to leave the business world for the common lifestyle led by most women in Kenucky during the first 70 years of the twentith century.

One such women that attempted and succeded at acquiring respect and equality among the men in her town of Kentucky was Nelda Barton-Collings from Corbin, Kentucky. With some help from her husband, the couple became wealthy and became owners of numerous businesses in Corbin. Once her husband died, she continued to control all of their businesses herself, but continued collaboration with a business partner that she and her husband had already been associated with prior to her husbands death. She was a natural leader and was the Republican National Committee Woman from Kentucky for 28 years and was the first woman to chair the Kentucky Chambers of Commerce. She recived no college schooling until after her husband passed, but learned mostly through the extended period of time in which she owned businesses. Today she owns with her business partner, nuring homes, newspapers, banks, and a pharmacy in the Corbin, Kentucky area.

Through business and economics, Nelda Barton-Collings was able to achieve equality in her daily life.  She is looked up to by many local women in the area and was able to live life as a equally respectable member in the community, not just as a women from Corbin, Kentucky whose husband owned a lot of businesses. She was able to distinguosh herself from the rest of the women in her town and raised herself above the norm for women from this time period.

Elizabeth Hardwick

November 30, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Intellectual history, Social history

Elizabeth Hardwick was a female novelist and feminist born in Lexington, Kentucky circa 1916.  Her name is often overlooked in history today and for what reason?  There are unfortunately many reasons why this woman who has contributed so much to the world of literature and feminism is so often ignored by historians.

Ms. Hardwick was a native of Kentucky and graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1939.  She was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1947 and was first published by Harper’s in 1959, solidifying her future as one of the most influential female American writers.  Her first featured article was a piece titled “The Decline of Book Reviewing” in which she highly criticized book critiques that were done by prominent male authors and historians and even the New York Times.  Her criticism of book reviews inspired her to start a book review society of her own with the help of several other authors and scholars, including poet Robert Lowell, whom would eventually be her husband.

Overall, Ms. Hardwick published many novels including “The Ghostly Lover”, “The Simple Truth”, and “Sleepless Nights” all of which were top sellers.  She also continued to mentor and teach writing seminars at Barnard College and Columbia University through the 1970’s and 80’s.

Why is a majority of her work not made widely known throughout the commonwealth and the rest of the country?  How is a woman so magnificent reduced to near non-existence after leading such a well educated and exciting life?  There is reason to believe that being female has played a large role in Ms. Hardwick’s dissappearing act.  Other reasons include the lack of interest in literature and he rlast piece of work being published over 12 years ago.  Even so, Elizabeth Hardwick’s work and dedication to literature and society must be better recognized and given more notoriety.

Wiki Press.  Wikipedia.  Elizabeth Hardwick.  Oct. 31 2010.  30 November 2010.

by dawn

Lucy Harth Smith

November 13, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s

Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith, an African American activist and educator, was born in Virginia in 1888. She moved to Kentucky where she worked to improve the school systems for the black community and aimed to include black history in historical textbooks. She attended Hampton Institute, graduated from Kentucky State College, and then got her master’s degree at the University of Cincinnati. Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith was the principal of Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Lexington, from 1935 to 1955.

Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith worked diligently to acquire textbooks for African American schools and libraries. She was involved with the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History is an organization that researches, preserves, and promotes black history. Preserving and promoting black history was a passion of Mrs. Lucy Harth Smith; she worked ardently to include black history in school textbooks, primarily in the elementary schools.
Smith was also a speaker who lectured about civic, racial, and social improvements. She also served as the president of the Kentucky Negro Education Association, a powerful group that lobbied for educational improvements. Among her many accomplishments, Smith helped raise funds to establish The Colored Health Camp. This camp was free to parents of undernourished and frail children for two weeks with the goal of improving the children’s health.

During the remodeling of the Booker T. Washington School, the architects designed the building so the entrance was on the side of the building. Lucy Smith would not stand for that, she took the matter to the Lexington Board of Education and had the door moved to the front.

Selected resources:
“Famous Kentucky Women” pamphlet by the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, revised May 1997,

Notable Black American Women, Book II. Jessie Carney Smith, editor. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc., 1996. [NOTE: this book is available in many local libraries; here is a search in WorldCat –]

“Lucy Harth Smith,” Journal of Negro History 41 (Apr 1956): 177-179.  Retrieved from

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