Georgia Davis Powers
|Georgia Montgomery Davis Powers|
Kentucky legislator and civil rights activist
October 19, 1923 |
|Occupation||Politician, civil rights activist|
|Spouse(s)||Norman F. Davis (1943-1968); James L. Powers (1973- )|
|Children||William "Billy" Davis|
|Parent(s)||Frances Walker and Ben Gore Montgomery|
Georgia Montgomery Davis Powers (born October 19, 1923) served for 21 years as a distinguished member of the state Senate in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. When elected in 1967, she became the first person of color and the first woman elected to the Kentucky State Senate.
Born in the city of Springfield, Kentucky, county seat of Washington County, Powers grew up in a family of nine children. She was the only girl with 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.
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. 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. For the next six years she worked on political campaigns, including that of Edward T. "Ned" Breathitt who ran successfully for Governor of Kentucky in 1963.
It was during this period that she began to discover the value of local politics in helping the disadvantaged, and she developed the political skills that would serve her and her constituents so well over the next two decades. After the Breathitt campaign, Powers worked for the Allied Organization for Civil Rights in promoting statewide public accommodations and fair employment laws in the early 1960s. In 1964, she was one of the organizers of a march on the state capitol at Frankfort in support of equity in public accommodations, an event in which Dr. Martin Luther King and baseball legend Jackie Robinson participated.
Powers was initiated as an honorary member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority in 1993.
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. Even as an elected official, she was not able to get a room in a hotel in segregated Frankfort. 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.
In her autobiography, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky, Powers details her personal relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the intimacy she shared with him as friend, trusted confidante, and lover. She was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when Dr. King was assassinated in 1968. She supported the Rev. Jesse Jackson's presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988 by chairing the Kentucky campaign headquarters.
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.
Awards and honors
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.
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. 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.
- 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 (2011-03-07). "Breaking Barriers: Kentucky's First Female African American Senator, Georgia Davis Powers". 9 Ways Blog. Gloria Feldt. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- "Georgia Davis Powers". Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Kentucky Educational Television. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- Clifft, Candyce (2010-11-06). "Georgia Davis Powers". Louisville Life, Program #503 (Kentucky Educational Television). Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- 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. 1995-01-02. Retrieved 2011-07-04..
- "Review, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky". Kirkus Reviews. 1995-03-01. Retrieved 2011-07-04..
- Clemons, Becca (2010-12-02). "Sen. Georgia Powers donates papers to UK". Kentucky Kernel. Retrieved 2011-07-04..
- Bailey, Brandy (2009-04-23). "A True Kentucky Pioneer: The Story of Kentucky's First Female and African-American Senator". ElectWomen Magazine. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- "Georgia Powers, First Black and First Woman Elected to Kentucky Senate". African American Registry. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- Betsy Brinson (2000-02-24). Interview of Edward T. Brethitt. The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky: The Kentucky Historical Society).
- New Horizon Press.
- Wilkerson, Isabel (1995-06-25). "Cries and Whispers". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-07-04.
- "Governor Beshear unveils new highway sign honoring Georgia Davis Powers". 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2011-04-25.
- Hale, Whitney; Erin Holaday (2010-12-03). "UK to House Georgia Powers Collections, Chair". UKnow. University of Kentucky. Retrieved 2011-04-25.