Georgia Davis Powers, 92, a giant in the fight for civil rights in Kentucky and the first African American woman elected to the state Senate, died Saturday at her brother's home in Louisville.
"When you think of civil rights in Kentucky, you have to start with Georgia Davis Powers," said Kentucky State Sen. Gerald Neal, who says Powers inspired him into public service.
She fought for fair housing and employment rights, became a close confidante of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and served 21 years in the state Senate. She was soft-spoken, gracious, and quick with a joke, Neal said. But in her battle for civil rights, she did not blink.
"She walked into the Legislature, a man's world, a white man's world, and she did not waver," Neal said. "She asked no quarter and gave no quarter."
Ms. Powers was born in 1923 in Washington County, Ky., the only girl among her parent's nine children. The family moved to Louisville when she was a young child. As a teenager, Powers quit a job at a five-and-dime store rather than tell black customers they weren't allowed to eat at the counter.
"I didn't like it. I knew it was going on and I always wondered what could be done about it," Ms. Powers said. "And in my young mind I couldn't think of anything to do about it."
That didn't last for long.
During Kentucky's civil-rights movement, Ms. Powers was a founder of the Allied Organizations for Civil Rights. She also helped organize a 1964 march in Frankfort - an event that attracted King, baseball legend Jackie Robinson and folksingers Peter, Paul and Mary - to push for an end to racial segregation in public accommodations. Two years later in 1966, the General Assembly passed a civil-rights law, making Kentucky the first Southern state to do so.
By 1967, Ms. Powers became the first woman and the first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate. She took office in 1968, and for next 21 years fought for African Americans, women, the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised. - AP