Former state senator and civil rights leader Georgia Powers dies at 92

01/30/2016 07:01 PM

Georgia Powers, a civil rights leader and the first African American and female member of the Kentucky state Senate, died on Saturday at the age of 92.

Powers died early Saturday morning in Louisville after battling congestive heart failure.

As a state lawmaker and activist, Powers worked for fair housing, equal rights and became a close ally of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Powers brought King and Jackie Robinson to Frankfort in 1964 as part of a rally to make public accommodations available to everyone regardless of race.

On Saturday, Kentucky politicians looked back fondly on Powers and her work.

“Former Senator Powers personified the very things that every legislator strives for,” House Speaker Greg Stumbo said in a statement. “She was a powerful voice for those she served; she was a leader who never stopped rallying others to join her in making Kentucky a better place; and she proved to be an enduring inspiration for others called to public service.

“Those of us lucky enough to know her will never forget her smile, her wit and the fire she had that warmed us all. She will be missed.”

Republicans Senate President Robert Stivers said he was “saddened” to Powers’ passing, adding that he was fortunate to have known the lively Democratic politician.

“She was a strong and energetic woman; truly a trailblazer for the civil rights movement in Kentucky,” Stivers said.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes also remarked on Powers’ place in Kentucky history.

“I will miss her grace, wit, and most of all, courage,” Grimes said. “She brought each of those traits to her work – serving as the first female and African American state senator and as a brave champion for civil rights in our country. Kentucky and our nation is a better place because of her. Let us each carry on her passion for equality for all.”

Powers helped in Grimes’ 2014 U.S. Senate race against now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. With a radio ad, she sought to help Grimes become Kentucky’s first female U.S. senator.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Lousville, said the city he represents and the state as a whole benefited from the courageous efforts of Powers.

“Georgia Powers leaves behind a city and Commonwealth that are fairer and offer more opportunity because of her lifelong dedication to the fight for justice,” Yarmuth said. “Generations of Kentuckians have benefited from the sacrifices she made on the front lines of protests and the trail she blazed—as both the first woman and first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate.

“As we strive to build on the difficult work of creating a more equal society, her inspiration continues to lift us and show us the way,” Yarmuth continued. “Louisville has lost a great champion today, but her legacy will live on, in our community and beyond, forever. I am honored to have called her a friend. Her family is in my thoughts and prayers at this time.”

Kentucky Commission on Human Rights Executive Director John J. Johnson said Kentucky has lost “one of our greatest civil rights leaders.”

“She was a key leader in the fight for the end of segregation, for integration in public accommodations, housing, employment, education, for the right of African Americans to vote,” Johnson said. “She worked for the rights of women on several fronts, for the rights of people who are disabled or ill, and for the rights and needs of the disenfranchised and the poor.

“Georgia Davis Powers forged her way in the Kentucky Capitol in 1967 as the first African American and the first female Kentucky senator,” Johnson continued. “She spoke with eloquence, the strength of conviction, and she became a master politician. She sponsored the open housing law, which passed in 1968, making Kentucky the first state in the south to have a state-level fair housing law.”

Powers is an inductee of the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame and an inductee of the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians.


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