JUSTICE FOR BREONNA!
By Senator Gerald A. Neal,
Kentucky Senate, 33rd District
This week the Louisville Metro Council voted unanimously to end no-knock warrants in the city. The legislation dubbed "Breonna's Law" will also require police to wear body cameras when serving a search warrant, with the camera active five minutes before carrying out operations. This legislation is long overdue. However, it is a prime example of how when we demand action, we can affect change locally.
CONTINUING THE CHANGE:
In 1794 Kentucky statute gave free or freed Negroes legal equality to whites. This was small comfort for those enslaved.
Yet in 1798-1799, in the second Kentucky Constitution, those freedoms were compromised. It reversed the status of free people of color by placing limitations on their rights, including voting and self-defense.
In 1865 slavery ended nationwide, including in Kentucky, after the critical number of states ratified the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Kentucky would not itself ratify the amendment until 1976.)
In 1870 members of Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Louisville organized Kentucky’s first known protest of racial discrimination, challenging segregation on local streetcars. This action and other early black protests would spark other actions demanding the rights to testify in court against whites, to serve on juries, and to vote. It also established a precedent for the involvement of black churches in the fight for civil rights, including organizing and working for freedom and justice in the open accommodation protest from that very same church in the 1960s.
In 1964 the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. Lack of support in the Kentucky legislature for a strong public accommodations bill led to a mass march on Frankfort. More than 10,000 people, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Georgia Davis Powers, who later became the first and only Senator of African American descent at that time, protested the inaction and resistance in the legislative body. This action and continuing pressure had a great effect on the status quo and led to change.
The Kentucky General Assembly responded to that demand in passing the Kentucky Civil Rights Act in 1966, one that Dr. King called “the strongest and most comprehensive civil rights bill passed by a Southern state” at the time. The law prohibited discrimination in employment and public accommodations and empowered cities to enact local laws against housing discrimination.
In 1967 open housing ordinances were passed in several counties across Kentucky, including one of the first acts of Louisville’s new Board of Aldermen in passing a strong ordinance against housing discrimination, replacing the weaker, voluntary one.
In the late 1960s, black students, inspired by the Black Power movement, as a demonstration of their protest of the lack of significant black student and faculty presence at the University of Louisville, took over the President’s office to force changes on campus. This led to the present-day Black Studies Department at U of L and the admittance of more black students to U of L.
JEFFERSON DAVIS STATUE REMOVED
Today, in 2020, the Historic Properties Advisory Committee met and FINALLY voted to remove the statue of Jefferson Davis in the Capitol Rotunda by a vote of 11-1. I have stood firm in my belief that the statue of Jefferson Davis should not be displayed in the State Capitol Rotunda. Jefferson Davis is a part of our collective history, but his role is not consistent with the contributions of Abraham Lincoln, Henry Clay, and Ephraim McDowell. The Jefferson Davis statue should be removed from the rotunda and put on display in a proper historical context – a place of history – not in the people's house in the center of government. I applaud the committees decision.
More importantly, we – as a state and nation – must correct this legacy of racism that continues to undermine our highest values – fairness and justice. The removal of this unacceptable symbol is not sufficient without dedicated, sustained, and corrective action. The statue and its legacy represent a period in history that stifles our opportunity for greatness as a commonwealth. We can remove such symbols, but this means nothing if it is not followed by focused, determined action. When we do what is right, we have the ability to move forward. We must remain vigilant and continue to do what is right!