Politics & Government

Events honor Lexington's first black city councilman

Friends and family honored Harry Sykes, Lexington's first black City Council member, at a reception Thursday in the mayor's office, recalling his contributions to civil rights and his distinguished career in local government.

Sykes was first elected in 1963 and served four consecutive terms on council. In 1967 he was elected mayor pro-tem. He also served as city manager and chief administrative officer.

"In 1968, after the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Harry Sykes helped pull this town together," said Joe Graves, who also was on the council at the time. "He helped give black people confidence in greater justice."

Sykes was a founder of the Lexington Fayette County Urban League and was its president when P.G. Peeples was hired in 1969 as education director. "He signed my first paycheck," said Peeples, who has been with the Urban League almost 44 years and is now president and CEO.

Sykes' wife, Geraldine, said her husband had hoped to attend but had not been in good health recently, and he had suffered a stroke on Wednesday. "He is here in spirit," she said, adding that the family was taking lots of pictures to share with him. Sykes' four sons and daughter were present.

Mayor Jim Gray declared Thursday Harry Sykes Day in Lexington at council's meeting Thursday night.

Sykes' daughter, Paula Brown, thanked the council on behalf of the family.