LOUISVILLE, K.Y.: Georgia Davis Powers, a giant in the fight for civil rights in Kentucky and the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate, has died. She was 92.
She died around 3:40 a.m. Saturday at her brother’s home in Louisville, said Louisville’s NAACP President Raoul Cunningham, a friend for five decades.
“When you think of civil rights in Kentucky, you have to start with Georgia Davis Powers,” said Kentucky State Sen. Gerald Neal, a longtime friend and colleague who says Powers inspired him into public service.
She fought for fair housing and employment rights, became a close confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and served 21 years in the state Senate. She was soft-spoken, gracious, quick with a joke, Neal said. But in her battle for civil rights, she did not blink.
“She walked into the legislature, a man’s world, a white man’s world, and she did not waver,” Neal said.
Powers was born in 1923 in Washington County, Ky., the only girl among her parent’s nine children. The family moved to Louisville when she was a young child. As a teenager, Powers quit a job at a five-and-dime store rather than tell black customers they weren’t allowed to eat their food at the counter.
“I didn’t like it. I knew it was going on and I always wondered what could be done about it,” Powers said in an interview. “And in my young mind I couldn’t think of anything to do about it.”
That didn’t last for long.
During Kentucky’s civil rights movement, Powers was a founder of the Allied Organizations for Civil Rights. She also helped organize a 1964 march in Frankfort — an event that attracted King, baseball legend Jackie Robinson and folk singers Peter, Paul and Mary — to push for an end to racial segregation in public accommodations. Two years later in 1966, the General Assembly passed a civil rights law, making Kentucky the first southern state to do so.
By 1967, Powers became the first African-American woman elected to the Kentucky Senate. She took office in 1968, and for next 21 years fought for African-Americans, women, the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised.