Back in 1964, some 10,000 Kentuckians joined Martin Luther King Jr. in a March on Frankfort to call for legislation to end discrimination and segregation in the Commonwealth.
On Connections, host Renee Shaw talked with three civil rights activists who participated in the 1964 march. Former State Senator Georgia Davis Powers told Shaw about her work to organize the event, and how she accompanied King and Jackie Robinson from the Louisville airport to Frankfort. Powers said Louisville Defender newspaper publisher Frank Stanley Jr. proposed the demonstration as a follow-up to the 1963 March on Washington.
Human Rights Commission Executive Director John Johnson also helped plan the original Frankfort demonstration. He said the Kentucky event helped bring attention to efforts to pass federal civil rights legislation, which happened four months after the Frankfort march. Although state lawmakers failed to approve civil rights legislation during the 1964 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, a state civil rights bill did finally pass in the 1966 session.
The Kentucky Human Rights Commission and other groups led another march on the capitol on March 5, 2014, to commemorate the anniversary of that landmark event.
One goal of the commemorative march was to help young people understand the role Kentucky played in advancing civil rights nationally. Despite the segregation that plagued the Commonwealth, Kentucky was the first state in the South to form a human rights commission (in 1960), to enact civil rights legislation (in 1966), and to adopt fair housing laws (in 1968).
“If I had a criticism of my generation and the organizations, we did not do a good job of teaching young African Americans, whites, or anyone about the struggle of the civil rights movement,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP chapter. “We have to look at what our current status is, and be prepared to meet that challenge as well as educate [about our past].”