Tom Eblen

‘Something ugly in the air.’ Urban League head talks politics during Kentucky visit.

Marc Morial, head of National Urban League, talks about 50 years of work in Lexington.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor, visits Lexington to celebrate local chapter's 50th anniversary. The league has developed a lot of affordable housing.
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Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former New Orleans mayor, visits Lexington to celebrate local chapter's 50th anniversary. The league has developed a lot of affordable housing.

National Urban League President Marc Morial took a break from get-out-the vote efforts Monday to visit Lexington to celebrate the local Urban League’s 50th anniversary.

“Trump and his policies have divided the country in a really significant way,” said Morial, a former two-term mayor of New Orleans.

“There’s something ugly in the air,” he said. “I expect leaders like the president, governors and mayors not to be dividers but to be uniters. To unite you have to demonstrate empathy, you have demonstrate compassion, and you can do it at the same time as being tough and strong.”

The national civil rights organization’s Enough is Enough campaign is working to mobilize black voters, who turned out in record numbers in 2008 and 2012 to elect Barack Obama president. Black turnout fell in 2016,when Trump beat Hillary Clinton.

Morial said he was concerned about the Trump administration’s lack of enforcement of civil rights laws, as well as the appointment of federal judges hostile to equal rights. He blamed the conservative Supreme Court majority’s weakening of the 1960s Voting Rights Act for Republican efforts in many states to suppress voting among minorities, poor people and others likely to vote against GOP candidates.

Morial said he heads to Philadelphia this weekend for get-out-the-vote efforts, and to Atlanta the following weekend. In the Nov. 6 midterm elections, Democrats hope to win control of one or both houses of Congress to put a check on Trump.

But Morial came to Lexington on Monday for a happier occasion: the 50th anniversary of the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County’s founding in May 1968.

Before Morial spoke at a banquet at Lexington Center, P.G. Peeples, who joined the local league in 1969 and has been its president since 1971, announced that an anniversary campaign had raised more than $1.1 million from Kentucky businesses and individuals.

Proceeds from the campaign, led by Peeples and businessman Jim Host and named in honor of the late builder Don Ball, will be used to insure the future of the local Urban League’s affordable housing initiatives.

Earlier in the day, Peeples took Morial on a tour of some of those housing projects. He also took him to visit the original grave of Whitney Young Jr., a Shelby County native who was president of the Urban League during the critical years of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

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President and Mrs. Nixon stood, along with some 6.000 others in attendance, as CWO Harold M. Madison of Fort Knox played “Taps” at Civil Rights leader Whitney Young Jr.’s burial service March 17, 1971 at Greenwood Cemetery. Photo by John C. Wyatt | Staff John C. Wyatt Herald-Leader

Young died in an accidental drowning in 1971. President Richard Nixon came to Lexington to speak at Young’s funeral. His body was later moved to New York.

Since 1981, Peeples and the league’s chief financial officer, Norman Franklin, have spearheaded development of 159 affordable homes, 51 units of senior housing and 51 single-family rental units throughout Lexington worth more than $26 million.

“This is exactly the kind of work the Urban League stands for,” Morial said. “P.G. has been one of our most impactful leaders, and one of our longest-serving leaders. He has done great work in real estate and great work in education. He has been a force in this community.”

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