Georgia Powers’s Indelible Impact, 1923-2016

We were saddened to learn today that Kentucky icon, Georgia Davis Powers has died at the age of 92. Both the first woman and the first African American elected to the Kentucky state senate, Powers leaves behind a legacy of service and leadership that won’t soon be forgotten.

Recently, the University Press of Kentucky published the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, featuring Georgia Powers. While the KAAE goes a long way in honoring and remembering the legacy of the impact of leaders like Powers, we also encourage you to read more about this powerful advocate. 

POWERS, GEORGIA MONTGOMERY DAVIS (b. 1923, Springfield, KY), first woman and first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate.

Georgia Powers Kentucky SenateBorn on October 29, 1923, in Springfield, KY, as Georgia Montgomery, the second of nine children and the only girl of Frances (Walker) and Ben Montgomery, Georgia was always determined to rise above the discrimination her gender and interracial heritage imposed on her. In 1925, the Montgomery family moved to Louisville, where Georgia received the majority of her education. She attended Virginia Avenue Elementary School (1929–1934), Madison Junior High School (1934–1937), Central High School (1937–1940), and Louisville Municipal College (1940–1942).

Additionally, she received certificates from the Central Business School and the United States Government IBM Supervisory School. A year after her graduation from Louisville Municipal College, she married Norman F. Davis. The couple had one son, William F. Davis. In 1968, the couple divorced, and Georgia married James F. Powers in 1973.

Powers began her political career training volunteers for Wilson Wyatt’s U.S. Senate campaign in 1962. She led campaigns for candidates for governor of Kentucky, mayor of Louisville, the U.S. House and Senate, and U.S. president within the next five years. Additionally, she participated in many civil rights activities throughout the 1960s. As one of the organizers of the Allied Organizations for Civil Rights, a group that worked toward the enactment of fair- employment and public-accommodations laws, she helped organize the 1964 March on Frankfort. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the keynote speaker. The next year, Powers helped organize the Kentucky Christian Leadership Conference and attended the historic march in Selma, Alabama, supporting the national Voting Rights Act. Among many other important civil rights activities, she marched with Dr. King in the Memphis sanitation struggle.

In 1967, Powers ran for the Kentucky State Senate with endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky and Louisville Education Associations, and the Louisville Chamber of Commerce. She won that seat easily, and her first bill for statewide housing passed in no time. She collaborated with Representatives Mae Street Kidd and Hughes E. McGill in introducing the first open-housing law in the South, which was passed in 1968. Other legislation that she either sponsored or cosponsored included bills for low-cost housing, the Equal Rights Amendment Resolution, and a bill to omit “race” from Kentucky driver’s licenses. She was also the secretary of the Kentucky Democratic Caucus during her entire senatorial career.

While serving in the Kentucky Senate for 21 years, she chaired the Health and Welfare Committee (1970–1976) and served as a member of the Rules Committee (1976–1978) and the Labor and Industry Committee for 10 years (1978–1988). Since her retirement in 1988, Powers has received numerous accolades. In 1995, she published her memoirs, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky. She also published The Adventures of the Book of Revelation in 1998 and Celia’s Land, a Historical Novel in 2004.

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