Sen. Georgia Powers donates papers to UK

By Becca Clemons

A new contribution to UK’s libraries will bring a glimpse of civil rights history to campus.

UK announced Friday that former Kentucky State Senator and civil rights icon Georgia Powers is donating her official papers to UK Libraries.

Powers was the first African-American and first woman in the Kentucky State Senate, beginning in 1968. Throughout her 21-year career she fought for a statewide fair housing law and sponsored bills prohibiting sex, employment and age discrimination.

“I’ve had a long life and have enjoyed what I’ve done,” Powers said. “I never expected to be honored.”

More than 2,000 newspaper clippings, photos, speeches and notes will be donated by Powers, a press release said. A selection of oral history interviews called the Georgia Davis Powers Oral History Project supplements her written memoir and will also be housed in the UK Libraries.

Gerald Smith, associate professor of history and co-editor of the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, conducted the most recent oral interviews with Powers. This collection will be housed in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and will be restricted for a period of time.

“The Georgia Powers oral histories and archival papers will document the life and career of an important Kentucky woman,” Associate Dean of Special Collections Deirdre Scaggs said. “The collection is important for Kentucky history, for the history of women and the history of African-Americans. It will strengthen the diversity of our materials.”

In addition to the donations, a chair will be endowed in Powers’ name as part of the Center for Research on Violence Against Women. The chair will focus on multicultural studies of violence against women and the experiences of women of color, the release said. This will be the fourth chair created by the CRVAW.

“Her work and 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,” Provost Kumble Subbaswamy said. “That journey continues today. 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.”

UK will hold a national search for the chair’s scholar, who will research and teach, Center for Research on Violence Against Women Director Carol Jordan said. The CRVAW is establishing a $1 million endowment to support the Georgia Davis Powers Chair. The center has already raised $720,000 and will raise the additional $280,000 by the end of 2011 for the endowment.

With the endowment, Powers hopes to continue to fight for equality, something she said has diminished in past years.

“All these years I thought we were moving forward,” Powers said. “Lately, I think we’ve been moving backwards. People are talking about taking about our country. I don’t want to go back. I will fight for the rest of my life for equality.”