Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Kentucky Public Accommodations Act

In 1963, Gov. Bert Combs issued two Executive Orders: one asking state agencies to review state government procedures and contracts to eliminate discrimination and another to discourage discrimination in public accommodations, including restaurants, hotels, theaters, and other recreational facilities. The Fair Service Executive Order was never implemented and soon became a sore spot for candidates running for governor in the 1963 election. The eventual winner, Edward Breathitt, agreed that he would support a bill to eliminate legal discrimination.

Introduced in the General Assembly in 1964, the bill never made it out of committee—despite a rally in its favor that drew 10,000 people from across the state to Frankfort in March. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., baseball hero Jackie Robinson, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, and folk musicians Peter, Paul, and Mary were also present.

Later that year, the U.S. Congress passed the federal Civil Rights Act, providing further ammunition to Kentuckians who wanted a state statute. Individuals and groups lobbied their legislators in their home districts throughout the two-year interim between legislative sessions. The bill was re-introduced—and passed—in 1966. The first state public accommodations law enacted by any Southern state, it gave the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights authority to resolve discrimination complaints.

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