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UK Libraries Exhibit Explores Life and Times of 'Last Free Man in America'

photo of Gatewood Galbraith exhibit sign
UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center exhibit “Gatewood Galbraith: The Last Free Man in America” runs June 19-July 28, at M.I. King Library Building.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 19, 2017) The new exhibit, “Gatewood Galbraith: The Last Free Man in America,” opens today (June 19) at University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center. The free public exhibit at the M.I. King Library Building celebrates the life and work of late Lexington native, politician, activist, author and public figure Gatewood Galbraith, and the outsized impact the perennial candidate’s life had in Kentucky and throughout the nation.

Located on the first and second floors at King, the exhibit includes photographs, campaign posters, newspaper clippings, memorabilia and personal items from the Gatewood Galbraith papers. The collection, housed at UK Special Collections Research Center, consists of 28 boxes of materials. The exhibit created from Galbraith’s papers will run through July 28.

Louis Gatewood Galbraith grew up in Carlisle, Kentucky, and earned his bachelor’s degree from UK in 1974 and his law degree from UK College of Law in 1977. As a practicing attorney, he focused on criminal law and personal injury civil actions.

Not long after graduation, Galbraith became known as an outspoken and quick-witted activist and politician. As a young boy, he became interested in politics after hearing a speech by Gov. Bert Combs. Always running with limited fundraising and on the outskirts of mainstream politics, Galbraith ran for Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner post in 1983; Kentucky’s attorney general position in 2003; Congress in 2000 and 2002; and governor five times: in 1991, 1995, 1999, 2007 and 2011. At different points, he ran as a candidate for the Democratic Party, Reform Party and as an Independent. Galbraith never won more than 15 percent of the vote in any party primary.

When not literally on the campaign trail, Galbraith continued to work as an attorney during his many runs for office. He famously quipped, “Losing statewide elections doesn’t pay worth a damn.”

“Gatewood,” as he was simply known throughout the Commonwealth, was a vocal advocate for ending the prohibition of cannabis, which resulted in close friendships with country singer Willie Nelson, politician Ralph Nader and actor Woody Harrelson, as well as a national reputation. Galbraith defended Rev. Mary L. Thomas in 2001 in the first felony medical marijuana case where Judge John D. Minton Jr. granted a stay in the case after its denial by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

In addition to his advocacy and activism for cannabis law reform, Galbraith also believed in widening gun rights, freezing college tuition, restoring hemp as an agricultural crop, stricter environmental protections, internet access for all counties, abolition of the income tax for those who earned $50,000 or less, job development and the prohibition of mountaintop removal mining in Kentucky. He strongly believed that Kentucky needed to fight the “Synthetic Subversion” and return to Kentucky’s focus on agriculture rather than its agreements with wealthy corporations.

Although known widely for his humor, quips and legal knowledge, Galbraith’s friends, family and associates knew him as a genuine, loving and good person, who cared about his community and the well-being of his neighbors.

Following his death in 2012, then Gov. Steve Beshear, who ran against Galbraith in multiple elections, said, “He was a gutsy, articulate and passionate advocate … he was willing to serve and was keenly interested in discussing issues directly with our citizens.”

Longtime friend and associate Terry McBrayer, a Lexington lawyer and lobbyist, said of Galbraith, “He didn’t have a harmful bone in his body. He was a genuinely good person.”

In addition to Galbraith’s papers, the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History is home to 16 interviews with family and colleagues in its “Gatewood Galbraith Oral History project,” which researchers can also use to learn more about the man under those wide-brimmed hats.

The Special Collections Research Center at UK Libraries is home to a collection of rare books, Kentuckiana, the Archives, the Nunn Center, the King Library Press, the Wendell H. Ford Public Policy Research Center, the Bert T. Combs Appalachian Collection, the John G. Heyburn Initiative and ExploreUK. The mission of the center is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

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