Georgia Davis Powers, the first and only black woman to have served in the Kentucky Senate, was a courageous advocate for the oppressed and powerless.
Powers, who died Saturday at 92, was also very much a pioneering woman of her times.
To achieve all that she did, Powers overcame formidable obstacles — the brutally racist era into which she was born, the sexist hierarchy of the civil rights movement, a Democratic Party establishment that helped her white primary opponent during her first political run, the patronizing of white political allies and the good ol’ boy miasma of the Kentucky legislature.
Powers would not be marginalized or demeaned, and she excelled at balancing idealism and pragmatism in a way that forever changed Kentucky for the better.
Born in Springfield and educated in segregated Louisville schools, she was the only girl in a family of eight brothers. During World War II, Powers riveted fuselages on military cargo planes.
She lived in New York and California before returning to Kentucky and worked in many jobs, including the campaigns of Democrats Wilson Wyatt and Edward T. “Ned” Breathitt. She was a part-time clerk in the Kentucky House, when a white lawmaker’s offhand defense of racial discrimination inspired her to seek her own legislative seat.
In 1968, in her first session, she passed a bill outlawing discrimination in housing. She went on to represent her Louisville district for 21 years as a steadfast advocate for women, children, low-wage workers and racial justice.
Powers also was on the front lines of the civil rights movement, demanding equal rights in the Deep South and helping organize the historic march on Frankfort in 1964.
Powers told Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen that, after risking death by marching for civil rights in Alabama, she was fearless, also that she never got angry with anyone over a legislative vote.
She said “it’s just my personality,” which may be true though she put herself to the test time and again.
Powers’ courage and determination, her generosity and grace serve as a powerful role model for anyone working to build a better Kentucky or a more just world.