Loss of a Legend: The death of Georgia Davis Powers

Loss of a Legend: The death of Georgia Davis Powers
Published: Feb. 1, 2016 at 9:41 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 17, 2016 at 9:01 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - During the month of February the Nation begins its recognition of Black History Month and in WAVE Country many are mourning the death of one of civil rights most important leaders. Georgia Davis Powers passed the morning of Jan. 30, 2016, after suffering from congestive heart failure.

Powers did not just change life for African-Americans in Kentucky. As a border state between the north, south and midwest, leaders like Powers had fertile ground to pursue the agenda of desegregation. She was honored in a National Photographic exhibit in Washington, D.C. as a Portrait of Black Women Who Changed America.  
Powers was born in Springfield, Kentucky and grew up in a family of nine children.  She was the only girl. Dealing with eight brothers could be partially responsible for Powers having the reputation of being such a tough woman.

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With force, Georgia Davis Powers once said, “You can be somebody to do something.”

She not only believed that but she felt it was everybody’s duty to do what they could to make the world a better place.
As a young girl she attended Virginia Avenue Elementary School. She then moved to Madison Junior High School, but it was while a student at the historic Central High School she began to find her voice as a leader and a civil rights activist.

“When I was 15, I got a job at grant's Five and Dime store on Fourth Street. I was told when I was hired that you can serve colored people but they can't stand at the counter and eat,” Powers said with a smirk on her face.

Segregation and Discrimination was the policy of the day. The denial of equal access to public accommodations affected all African-Americans. Blacks could not use restaurants, bathrooms, water fountains, public parks or swimming pools used by whites. The 15-year-old Powers had other plans.

Powers laughed as she said, “So I got two warnings ‘cause I didn't tell anybody they couldn't stand there and eat.”

Powers allowed anyone who purchased anything from the food counter to remain and eat until they were done. Not only did she receive warnings about doing this, but she may have received a direction for her life's work.

“The book keeper had this little envelope with my pay check. There was no check. My money was in it and it wasn't pay day,” Powers said with the same grin on her face, this time accompanied by laughter.

It was a little later in her life she took her first steps into Democratic Party Politics by joining the U.S. Senatorial Campaign staff for Wilson Wyatt. For the next six years she worked on political campaigns, including that of Ned Breathitt who ran successfully for Governor of Kentucky in 1963. 

One year later, during the March on Frankfort on March 5, 1964, Powers made a power move.  With 10,000 people at the foot of the Capitol building, Powers decided to approach the Governor in his office during the march. 

She invited along on her quest Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Jackie Robinson and a host of Kentucky's Civil rights Activist who were calling for the passing of a bill to prohibit segregation and discrimination in Kentucky.

"One of the reporters said to me 'the governors in his office.'  We asked if he was coming out and he said, 'no,'" Powers said.

As a former worker for Breathitt's campaign, Powers decided if he would not come out she would go in. She took it upon herself take the March on Frankfort just a few steps farther to the Governor's office  taking with her Rev. Abernathy and Dr. King. The bill did not get out of committee that year but Kentucky later became the first state in the south to adapt a state wide civil rights law. 

Powers explained during an earlier interview with some force, "Whatever position you're in become active. I'd see something that wasn't right, well there ought to be a law against it. So the next day I'd go and create a law!"

As the first woman and the first African-American to be elected to the State Senate, Georgia Davis Powers lived her life as a trailblazer, leader and legislator urging us all to make a difference right where we are.

"You see what's going on in the world and what needs to be done, so do it," she said.

Powers served in the Kentucky Senate for 21 years. She also wrote two books. Her first book was the controversial "I Shared the Dream: The Pride, passion and politics of the first Woman Senator from Kentucky" and her latest book "Dr. Kings Last Day."

Georgia Davis Powers, legislator and civil rights pioneer, died at 92.

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