Woodford County High School student Camille Carter posed a question Wednesday at a symposium about the 50th anniversary of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act.
The conversation was about segregation and discrimination in Kentucky before the act was passed. She asked about the struggle that still continues.
“How do I respond to my fellow brothers and sisters who label me as an Uncle Tom if I want to be more educated and sometimes hang out with predominantly white individuals?”
The Civil Rights Act was the first legislative move of any southern state to counter laws and custom that authorized or permitted discrimination, and it was applauded by Martin Luther King Jr., who called it “the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a southern state.”
Carter’s question garnered responses from many of the symposium panelists, including Kentucky Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton.
“That was my experience in Detroit growing up,” Hampton said. “My choices were questioned. I was belittled for getting good grades. I was belittled for reading all the time. People questioned if I listened to artists who were not black, and I had to make a choice.”
Hampton said her mother’s dedication to her education and her desire to be successful pushed her to overcome the jeers and criticism of her peers and community.
“You may have to walk away,” Hampton said. “You may be swimming upstream, because I spent a lifetime swimming upstream because I’m conservative, but I had a mom who cared and God’s hand was in my life and that is all that matters, so I stand today as the lieutenant governor of the state of Kentucky, the first African-American elected statewide.”
Hampton and Attorney General Andy Beshear addressed the symposium held a the University of Kentucky prior to the panels. Hampton cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from Birmingham jail among her inspirations when she was growing up during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s.
King’s death when she was 10 inspired her to continue to strive in school, as did her single-mother’s dedication to provide for her family, she said.
“I’m convinced that there was a reason I grew up poor, because I have found that when you have a limited amount of money, then you will either do the things that you need to do to increase your income or you will get really creative with the money you have,” Hampton said after the speech. “That started with me as a kid. I learned to sew my own clothes (because) there was a really creative process that I was forced to get in to to make due.”
Beshear discussed the Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s recently proposed budget in his discussion of civil rights, emphasizing how the dismantling of Kynect — the state’s version of the Affordable Care Act — may affect minorities in Kentucky.
“I believe the ability to see a doctor, the ability to have good health is a basic human right, and that right has been denied to so many people because of the remnants of discrimination,” Beshear said. He added that in the West End of Louisvillethere are about 60,000 people, primarily minorities, who have health care for the first time because of these programs.
The symposium addressed issues of civil rights including racial segregation, the refugee crisis and discrimination because of disability and gender.
The symposium, presented by the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and the University of Kentucky College of Law, concluded with the presenting of the Georgia Davis Powers Award to Georgia Davis Powers. She was unable to accept the award because she is currently in hospice care. The award was accepted on her behalf by Raoul Cunningham, President of the Kentucky Conference of NAACP Branches, and Powers’ first campaign manager.