Celebrating civil rights


Lieutenant governor Jenean M. Hampton is the first black woman to hold statewide office. Photo by Belle Leininger | Staff

By Cheyene Miller

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UK welcomed two of the state’s top elected officials Wednesday morning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Kentucky Civil Rights Act.

Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, the first black person to hold statewide office in Kentucky history, recalled memories of watching the civil rights movement unfold and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. when she was 10 years old.

“I remember seeing the news footage of the civil rights marchers,” Hampton said to a crowd of students and professors in the Law Building during the day-long symposium.

Hampton grew up in Detroit. She earned an engineering degree before joining the U.S. Air Forceand achieving the rank of captain.

Hampton said her faith in the U.S. Constitution motivated her to enter politics, a career she had never considered.

“I knew that I could be a part of the process if I so chose,” said Hampton, noting that King would likely be disappointed in the low level of voter participation in the U.S.

Hampton said she hopes students at UK appreciate the history of civil rights in Kentucky, as well as the leaders who paved the way to make campus more diverse.

Also speaking at the symposium was Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear, who said the state played a “historic role in our country’s civil rights movement.”

Kentucky was the first Southern state to enact civil rights legislation, and the sole dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson came from former Kentucky Attorney General John Marshall Harlan.

During his speech, Beshear referred to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has advocated for a ban on Muslim immigrants in response to terrorist attacks in Paris and the U.S.

“We have political leaders running for president, that loudly and publicly condemn entire groups of people simply over their religion,” Beshear said. “Those voices incite intolerance, division and hatred, and are exactly what the Kentucky Civil Rights Act was meant to combat.”

He also took the opportunity to criticize the policies of Hampton’s running mate, Gov. Matt Bevin, who has promised to dismantle Kynect, the state’s online insurance market.

Beshear called access to quality health care “a basic human right,” and said 60,000 people in West Louisville, who are mostly minorities, gained health care for the first time through Kynect and the state’s Medicaid expansion.

“If we are ultimately going to grow up in a world that is equal with equal opportunity, we have to ensure that we stand up for that basic human right of health care,” Beshear said.