Georgia Davis Powers

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Georgia Davis Powers
Powers (right) in 2010
Member of the Kentucky State Senate
In office
January 1968 – January 1989
Personal details
Georgia Montgomery

(1923-10-19)October 19, 1923
Springfield, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedJanuary 30, 2016(2016-01-30) (aged 92)
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Norman F. Davis (m. 1943–1968)

James L. Powers (m. 1973)
ChildrenWilliam "Billy" Davis
ParentsFrances Walker and Ben Gore Montgomery
OccupationPolitician, civil rights activist

Georgia Davis Powers (née Montgomery; October 19, 1923[1] – January 30, 2016) was an American politician, who served for 21 years as a member of the state senate in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In 1967, she was the first person of color and the first woman elected to the senate.[1][2]


Born in Springfield, Kentucky, Powers grew up in a family of nine children. She had eight brothers: Joseph Ben (Jay), Robert, John Albert, Phillip, Lawrence Franklin, James Isaac, Rudolph and Carl. Her parents, Frances Walker and Ben Gore Montgomery, later moved the family to the state's largest metropolis, Louisville. As a young girl she attended Virginia Avenue Elementary School and Madison Junior High School. She graduated from Central High School in 1940, and from 1940 to 1942 attended the Louisville Municipal College.[1]

As a young wife and mother of an adopted son, William (known as Billy), Georgia and her husband Norman "Nicky" Davis joined the New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Louisville.[3]:80 A fellow church member, Verna Smith, encouraged Georgia to take her first steps into Democratic Party politics by joining the U.S. Senatorial campaign staff of Wilson Wyatt.[4]

Powers worked for the Allied Organization for Civil Rights in promoting statewide public accommodations and fair employment laws in the early 1960s.

Powers was initiated as an honorary member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority in 1993.[5]

Public office[edit]

Elected to serve in the Kentucky Senate from January 1968 to January 1989, Powers sponsored bills prohibiting employment discrimination, sex and age discrimination, in addition to introducing statewide fair housing legislation. She was a leader in the movement to change what many considered the racially insensitive wording of the Kentucky State Song, My Old Kentucky Home, in 1986.[6]

Even as an elected official, she was not able to get a room in a hotel in segregated Frankfort.[7] She also supported legislation to improve education for the physically and mentally disabled. Powers was a member of the Cities Committee, Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee and the Rules Committee. She served as secretary of the Democratic caucus from 1968 to 1988. She chaired two legislative committees: Health and Welfare (1970–76) and Labor and Industry (1978–88). In an oral history interview by Betsy Brinson in 2000, Governor Breathitt remembered:

Georgia Davis Powers, was a great leader and a strong supporter of Dr. King and represented his views in Kentucky very effectively. She was later a member of the Kentucky State Senate, a very influential member from Louisville, and I would consider her one of the real heroes of the Civil Rights Movement in this state; and one of the most effective civil rights leaders in this state... She was effective in the Senate and in politics through the art of persuasion. She did not antagonize people. She was very strong in her positions, but she has a wonderful personality and people liked her. And she would get votes very effectively for the causes she believed in. She just was a vote getter and a great lobbyist and persistent; but a wonderful warm personality. Everybody was crazy about her.[8]

In her autobiography, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky, Powers wrote that she had a personal relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. as a friend, trusted confidante, and lover.[3]:145-162[9] She also wrote that she was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when King was assassinated in 1968,[9] although some of King's other associates questioned her account.[10]

After she retired from her seat in the Kentucky Senate in 1988, she remained committed to the continuing fight for equal rights and human dignity. In 1990, Powers created the Friends of Nursing Home Residents (FONHRI) to organize faith-based volunteerism in the Louisville area to serve as visitors to the local nursing homes. She also incorporated in 1994 an organization called QUEST (Quality Education for All Students) to monitor the work of the Jefferson County school board to halt the return to segregated schools.[1][3]:318-319

Awards and honors[edit]

Powers was included in a national photographic exhibit that opened on February 8, 1989, at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C.: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. In 1989 Powers received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Kentucky and an honorary doctorate of humane letters from the University of Louisville.


Powers died on January 30, 2016, at the home of one of her brothers in Louisville, after suffering from congestive heart failure for several years.[1]


In 2010 the Kentucky Legislature, under House Joint Resolution 67, renamed the portion of I-264 that runs through the West End of Louisville from I-64 near the Indiana border to the junction with US 31W the Georgia Davis Powers Expressway.[11] The University of Kentucky endowed a chair in the name of Senator Powers as part of UK's Center for Research on Violence Against Women.[12]


  • Onyekwuluje, Anne B. (2011). Historical Influence: reading Georgia Powers as a grassroots civil rights leader in the rough business of Kentucky politics. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books. ISBN 978-0-7391-5098-6.
  • Powers, Georgia (1995). I Shared the Dream: The pride, passion, and politics of the first Black woman senator from Kentucky. Far Hills, N.J: New Horizon Press. ISBN 0-88282-127-X.
  • Barbara Summers, eds. (1989). I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America. New York, N.Y.: Stewart Tabori & Chang. pp. 74–75. ISBN 1-55670-092-X.
  • Groob, Kathy (March 7, 2011). "Breaking Barriers: Kentucky's First Female African American Senator, Georgia Davis Powers". 9 Ways Blog. Gloria Feldt. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  • "Georgia Davis Powers". Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Kentucky Educational Television. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  • Clifft, Candyce (November 6, 2010). "Georgia Davis Powers". Louisville Life, Program #503. Kentucky Educational Television. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  • Georgia Davis Powers entries in History of Kentucky Women in the Civil Rights Era, University of Kentucky.
  • "Review, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky". Publishers Weekly. January 2, 1995. Retrieved July 4, 2011..
  • "Review, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky". Kirkus Reviews. March 1, 1995. Retrieved July 4, 2011..
  • Clemons, Becca (December 2, 2010). "Sen. Georgia Powers donates papers to UK". Kentucky Kernel. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013. Retrieved July 4, 2011..


  1. ^ a b c d e Eblen, Tom (January 30, 2016). "Georgia Davis Powers, legislator and civil rights pioneer, dies at 92". Lexington Herald-Leader. Retrieved January 30, 2016.
  2. ^ Hudson, J. Blaine (2001). "African Americans". In Kleber, John E. The Encyclopedia of Louisville. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. p. 17. ISBN 0-8131-2100-0. OCLC 247857447. Retrieved February 6, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c Powers, Georgia Davis (1995). I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky. Far Hills, N.J.: New Horizon Press. ISBN 9780882823546. OCLC 31907951.
  4. ^ Bailey, Brandy (April 23, 2009). "A True Kentucky Pioneer: The Story of Kentucky's First Female and African-American Senator". ElectWomen Magazine. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  5. ^ "Famous Sorors". Sigma Gamma Rho Lambda Phi Sigma Alumnae Chapter. Retrieved 2018-04-14.
  6. ^ "Interview with Carl R. Hines, Sr.,". Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History. University of Kentucky Libraries: Lexington. Retrieved June 18, 2016. Discussion of the episode begins approximately 82 minutes into the interview. Also see the contemporaneous reporting that appeared in the article written by Bob Johnson in the edition of March 12, 1986 of the Courier-Journal (page 18) and the Associated Press article that appeared in the edition of March 21, 1986 of the Lexington Herald-Leader (page A11). Hines' resolution was House Resolution 159 (1986); Powers' resolution was Senate Resolution 114 (1986).
  7. ^ "Georgia Powers, First Black and First Woman Elected to Kentucky Senate". African American Registry. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  8. ^ Betsy Brinson (February 24, 2000). Interview of Edward T. Brethitt. The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky: The Kentucky Historical Society. Archived from the original on April 24, 2012.
  9. ^ a b Wilkerson, Isabel (June 25, 1995). "Cries and Whispers". The New York Times. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  10. ^ "Civil Rights Leader, Politician and Alleged MLK Mistress Dies". South Florida Times. Associated Press. February 4, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  11. ^ "Governor Beshear unveils new highway sign honoring Georgia Davis Powers". June 16, 2010. Archived from the original on September 21, 2011. Retrieved April 25, 2011.
  12. ^ Hale, Whitney; Erin Holaday (December 3, 2010). "UK to House Georgia Powers Collections, Chair". UKnow. University of Kentucky. Retrieved April 25, 2011.

External links[edit]