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(April 26, 1936 – March 24, 2019)

By Gracie Lewis, Board Member, Kentucky Alliance

On Friday, March 29, 2019 Shelby Lanier, Jr. was funeralized. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort, but where he stands in times of controversy.” Shelby Lanier, Jr., was such a man. Wherever there was an injustice anywhere, he took a stand. Shelby, all the way to his death, was standing up for our community and speaking truth to power. In 2014, Shelby was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

A Profile Picture of The Late Shelby Lanier
The Late, Shelby Lanier The Fearless Crusader for Justice In Kentucky | Image Courtesy KY Commission of Human Rights

Shelby Lanier, Jr. served on the police force for 27 years, he never missed an opportunity to address the continuing issue of excessive force. In 1971, Shelby organized the Louisville Black Police Officers Organization. He was one of the founders and Past President of the National Black Police Association, and when members of the social justice community was protesting about police abuse and police brutality, Shelby was there.

When Louisville’s social justice community marched against the police shootings of Desmond Rudolph, Rodney Abernathy, Clifford Lewis, Antwan Bryant, Marshall Marbley, James Taylor and Michael Newby, Shelby was on the front lines. The Rev. Louis Coleman and members of the Justice Resource Center, including Shelby declared “enough is enough” and staged an “economic boycott” of the stores in Louisville to expose protest police brutality, he was there. Our community started shopping in Indiana.

Shelby had the courage to speak out when fellow officers did wrong, and to expose the presence of Klansmen on the force. Most importantly, he proved that it is possible to enforce the law, without abusing citizens because he had always treated every person with respect.

When Adrian Reynolds was taken into custody, and beaten beyond inches of his life, Shelby stood up and spoke out against “excessive force.” Adrian Reynolds was eventually killed, while in jail custody, by Timothy Barnes and four other guards guard, Shelby took a stand.

Shelby loved talking about Central High School where he received letters in football and baseball. He praised the Black teachers who made such a difference in his life. Shelby regularly attended school board meetings and spoke out on what should be done to achieve racial equity in the hiring of teachers of color.

Now that Shelby is gone home, it’s left up to the social justice community to insure that JCPS’ Racial Educational Equity Plan (2018-2020) is fully implemented. We continue to get a Police Civilian Review Board to insure that racial profiling and bias is rooted out. The community should insure that bail is lowered for the poor and people of color especially where there is no felony involved. Shelby worked for economic justice until his death.

Shelby was “Black and he was proud.” He understood the importance of historical black colleges in the development of our culture and advancing black higher education. While comprising only 3 percent of America’s colleges and universities, HBCU’s produce 28 percent of all blacks with undergraduate degrees; 46 percent of black business executives and 80% of black federal judges. Shelby was a graduate of Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. Today, we have Simmons College of Kentucky, let us all support and encourage others to attend, in Shelby’s honor.

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