Erin Holaday

UK to House Georgia Powers Collections, Chair

Published: Dec 3, 2010

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 3, 2010) — The University of Kentucky announced today that it will house important papers and interviews related to former Kentucky state Sen. Georgia Powers.

Additionally, the university will also endow a chair in the name of the trailblazing legislator and civil rights icon as part of UK’s Center for Research on Violence Against Women. Powers became the first African-American and the first woman to hold a seat in the Kentucky  Senate in 1968.

"The importance of Sen. Powers is found not just in what she did, but in what she continues to inspire us to do. Her work and her point of view are as contemporary today as they were when she first pushed for justice and civil rights in the journey taken through the civil rights movement," said UK Provost Kumble Subbaswamy. "With the collections and endowed chair, the University of Kentucky will capture Senator Powers’ history and hold up her story as an inspiration to the next generation. With these steps, we move in a direction we know Senator Powers would want us to go: we will directly improve the lives of Kentucky families."

Starting with her first bill for a statewide fair housing law, Powers carved out a 21-year career fighting for civil rights legislation that prohibited sex, job and age discrimination.

Researchers for years to come will be able to study the impact Powers had not only in Louisville and her home state of Kentucky, but as a leader in the nation's civil rights movement through two new collections being donated to the UK Libraries consisting of the legislator's papers and a selection of oral history interviews.

"The Georgia Powers oral histories and archival papers will document the life and career of an important Kentucky woman," said Associate Dean of Special Collections Deirdre Scaggs. "It highlights her involvement in the Kentucky civil rights movement, her career as a senator, and her experiences as a black woman. The Powers collection is important for Kentucky history, for the history of women, and the history of African-Americans — these materials will be used by interdisciplinary scholars of United States history, politics, gender and race." 

The papers donated to UK Libraries will encompass more than 2,000 newspaper clippings, photos, speeches and legal pads filled with the legislator's handwritten thoughts.

Sen. Powers' oral history interviews, the Georgia Davis Powers Oral History Project, supplement her written memoir and offer new information about her life and work. The collection documents the powerful role she played in affecting public policy as she pushed for legislation on public accommodations and open housing. Powers fought for the Equal Rights Amendment resolution and the Displaced Homemaker's Law. The most recent interviews were conducted by historian Gerald Smith who played a crucial role in acquiring Senator Powers' papers and strengthening her relationship with UK Libraries. This collection, housed in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, will be restricted for a period of time.

"We won’t truly appreciate the magnitude of this donation until 20-30 years from now," said Smith, an associate professor of history and co-editor of the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. "Scholars and students will have another window into understanding Kentucky's political history as well as the people, places, and events which shaped the civil rights movement in America."

In addition to the donations of materials to UK Libraries, the university will also become home to the Georgia Davis Powers Endowed Chair. This is the fourth chair created by the Center for Research on Violence Against Women and will focus on multicultural studies of violence against women and the unique experiences of women of color.

All women are at risk of abuse, but certain populations in the U.S. and around the world are often at greater risk. "Culture, race, and ethnicity — these things matter to whether or not you experience violence and what you do in response," said Carol Jordan, director of the Center for Research on Violence Against Women. "These issues are so important; we thought that they required their own chair. And we wanted to use this opportunity to add a chair as well as honor an extraordinary woman."

The Georgia Davis Powers Endowment will affirm the importance of addressing race, ethnicity, and other socio-cultural factors in the study of violence against women.

Powers was more than willing to lend her name to such a worthy area of research. "Senator Powers connects with the work of our center, because she's a survivor of things that our center works for," noted Jordan. "She works on behalf of women and works for women. With that in mind, she fits completely with what we’re trying to do."

UK will hold a national search for the appropriate scholar, who will research and teach, but also exist as a fulcrum for a diverse range of research at UK. The Center for Research on Violence Against Women is establishing a $1 million endowment to support the Georgia Davis Powers Chair. Having already raised $720,000, the center will raise an additional $280,000 by the end of 2011 for the Georgia Davis Powers Endowment.

The announcement with Powers came on the heels of her presentation Dec. 2 as part of UK African American Studies and Research Program's "Fall 2010 Dialogues on Race Film Series: Sisters in the Struggle." The event, facilitated by Eleanor Jordan, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Women, gave UK students an opportunity to watch an oral history with Powers from the Kentucky Oral History Commission. Students then were able to ask her about how she feels about the published piece collected more than a decade earlier. This year’s "Dialogues on Race" were organized in concert with a course led by Randolph Hollingsworth, assistant provost for Integrated Academic Services. Watch this oral history with Powers online on KET's website at www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_powers.htm.

In addition to the new oral history and archival collections being donated by Senator Powers, UK Libraries is home to three other oral histories with the state legislator. Powers was previously participated in the Nunn Center's "Blacks in Lexington Project" and "Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project." Both collections are open to the public. 

One of nine children, Powers was born Oct. 19, 1923, in Springfield, Ky. A civil rights movement leader in the Commonwealth, she was one of the organizers of the 1964 Civil Rights March on Frankfort in support of a law that would make public accommodations accessible to all, regardless of race. That same year, Powers became the first black woman to serve on the Jefferson County Democratic Executive Committee. As senator, she chaired two legislative committees, Health and Welfare (1970-76) and Labor and Industry (1978-88). Powers also served as chair of the Reverend Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign twice.

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