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1990-10-19 Interview with Georgia M. Powers, October 19, 1990 Leg001:1990OH285LEG19 01:58:09 Kentucky Legislature Oral History Project Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries Legislators -- Kentucky -- Interviews. African American legislators -- Kentucky. Women legislators -- Kentucky. Race discrimination -- Kentucky -- Louisville. Discrimination -- Law and legislation -- Kentucky. Mass media -- Influence -- Kentucky. Kentucky. Governor (1974-1979 : Carroll) civil rights open housing bill Breathitt, Edward (Ned) Carroll, Julian Rules Committee Huddleston, Walter (Dee) Garrett, Tom discrimination women in the legislature role of media Key Legislation: Kentucky Open Housing Law, 1968. Term/District: Senate (1968-1986), 33rd district Counties in District: Jefferson County (Ky.) Georgia M. Powers; interviewee Margaret Brown; interviewer 1990OH285_LEG019_Powers 1:|22(18)|36(2)|49(8)|58(4)|70(13)|88(3)|97(16)|107(13)|119(7)|129(3)|137(17)|144(14)|157(4)|165(17)|179(11)|186(1)|195(14)|203(8)|213(9)|223(7)|233(12)|245(19)|263(13)|272(4)|281(17)|296(1)|306(7)|316(18)|324(13)|338(9)|354(6)|371(17)|382(10)|390(15)|400(16)|409(5)|418(11)|429(18)|447(13)|459(3)|467(7)|482(3)|507(2)|519(3)|539(7)|550(14)|566(8)|572(18)|592(15)|605(16)|615(18)|623(4)|630(12)|644(18)|666(6)|678(7)|692(12)|703(9)|712(16)|724(1)|742(7)|750(20)|767(12)|787(4)|797(16)|804(1)|818(9)|827(10)|839(5)|851(2)|861(4)|870(8)|881(7)|887(4)|894(10)|904(17)|915(4)|922(10)|933(8)|941(14)|949(14)|961(10)|968(9)|986(11)|1010(8)|1020(17)|1054(12)|1066(4)|1071(10)|1084(6)|1097(6)|1103(7)|1111(11)|1120(7)|1129(11)|1137(8)|1157(5)|1170(14)|1183(12)|1204(12)|1213(6)|1228(2)|1237(10)|1248(2)|1260(12)|1272(2)|1280(12)|1287(3)|1295(14)|1307(2)|1320(7)|1331(2)|1349(10)|1379(2)|1400(1)|1404(15)|1415(2)|1421(9) audiotrans Legit interview BROWN: Well as I said, I will be following up to the conversations that you had with other people and try to fill in some of the missing information that I saw on those tapes. POWERS: Yes, sure. BROWN: One thing that I noticed was you told the story about your-the first son that you adopted, but then I looked up a record of you in the Who's Who and they listed some other children- POWERS: Other children. They, yes- BROWN: I didn't know how they came into your life (laughs)- POWERS: I was a Davis when we adopted the one son- BROWN: Is that William? POWERS: William, yes. And my husband and I divorced-Davis divorced in 1968. BROWN: That was shortly after you were elected, is that correct? POWERS: It was the same, I was elected in `67. November `67. We were divorced in June of `68. And I stayed single for five years. And then I married James Powers, who I'm married to now. And he had three children. So these are actually step-children. Um-hm. That's how they came about. BROWN: So there's two daughters and a son- POWERS: Two daughters and a son. The son is now deceased. Um-hm. BROWN: And are there any grandchildren? POWERS: Yes. My son has one son and he has one daughter who has one son, so actually two grandchildren. No, my son has two sons. I gotta correct that. My son has two sons because he adopted a son and has a natural son. So he has two sons. And my husband's daughter has one son. So there are three grandchildren. BROWN: Were they fairly, were they grown when you got married? POWERS: Yes. His children were young adults. And my son was a young adult also. They knew each other. They were in the same age group, but my son was a little bit older. So- BROWN: I think one thing that you mentioned earlier was, was the way you felt when you were younger is that it was hard to have a career and have children too. POWERS: Yes, well when I grew up, most women, particularly black women, could look forward to being a teacher or a registered nurse. Those were two careers that were available to black women. And I didn't want to be either. I really didn't want any children because I had been around so many children in my immediate family, and I saw the sacrifices that my parents made and I just didn't want to make those sacrifices. I wanted to really be something myself. I wanted a career and I wanted to do something. I wanted to do something with my life. I knew at an early age that I wanted to be something special. Although I knew I was something special to begin with because-having been the only girl in eight boys, I knew there was something different about me (both laugh) from the beginning. And I soon found out that, that I had to make my own space. Just because you have your brothers, because of your brothers, doesn't mean that they are going to cater to you because brothers don't cater to sisters. And so it really made me tough and I found myself constantly competing with the boys when I was growing up. I thought my parents thought boys could do everything and girls could do nothing. And they mostly want-thought girls should stay in the house and wash dishes and clean house and I didn't like to do that and I didn't want to, although I had to do some of it. And I was determined that when I was grown, I was not going to just be raising children and doing housework. But I found that I like to do housework now (laughs). So it's- BROWN: (Unintelligible)- POWERS: it's because you know, I can do it if I want to. If I don't want to, I don't have to. But I always compare my growing up with the boys in my young years, younger years. See I was competing with the boys and then when I was elected to the Senate in 1967 I found that it was a good training ground because when I got to the Senate, I was still competing with the boys. A different set of boys, but it was the same thing. So I was accustomed to men, and to boys, and I had been around boys all my life, so I wasn't that excited when I got to the Senate. I had a goal in me when I went there, and that was to represent people who did not have representation in Frankfort. And very-I stuck to it very well, was an advocate for women, blacks, children, and so forth. BROWN: Well that's another, that gets to another thing that I was interested in asking you more about, was I think it was early on, when you were a young person, you mentioned that you were trying to succeed in your own career, and as you were competing for jobs you said that, earlier, you never thought about the question of race, that it didn't-you didn't think about it. POWERS: Yeah. BROWN: Then when you, about the time when you got to talking about the March on Frankfort in 1964, you said that race had become very central to your thinking. POWERS: Yes. BROWN: And I was wondering how that change came about? POWERS: Well, the change came about because it-when I was fifteen, during the summer months, I was hired as counter girl at a Grant's Five and Ten Cent Store behind the counter selling hot dogs and rootbeer. And it was really my first experience with racism. The supervisor told me when she hired me that if any colored people bought hot dogs and root beer, they could not stand and eat them at the counter. And I thought that was strange since they were paying the same price. And right then, I thought, "Well I'm not gonna tell anybody if they-to move if they buy hot dogs and drink, and root beer." So sure enough, it wasn't long before a black person came in and bought a hamburger-I mean a hot dog and root beer and I didn't say anything to them. And they just stood there and ate. So the supervisor came up to me and gave me a warning. She said she told me to tell colored people to move away from the counter and not to eat at the counter. And she was giving me a warning. And I thought, "Well I, I'm not gonna do it." I just couldn't do it. And so it wasn't long before one of my teachers came in and he spied me standing behind the counter and he came over and he was very talkative. And I asked him if he'd like to have a hot dog and a root beer, and he said yes. So he bought them, and while he was eating-I was talking to him and he was standing there eating his hot dog and his root beer. And when I looked up after he left, I saw the supervisor from a distance peeping through some merchandise and I said, "unh-huh, today's my day." So about an hour before quitting time, I went to the office and I told them I was quitting and, because I just could not tell anybody they couldn't stand and eat a hot dog and drink a root beer at a counter. I said, "I just can't tell them." And one thing I did notice, when I told her that, she had my pay envelope ready and it wasn't payday. So they were gonna fire me. So, so I left that job. So that started me to thinking and started me to realizing what I was really facing in the, in the world, in the reality. And, because I just had never thought of it much growing up because the only time we heard anything about race was when my father went to work, now I don't know if you heard any of these stories on that, I don't know if I even told it. But when my father went to work at American Radiator and Standard Sanitary-you heard that? BROWN: Yeah. POWERS: Okay. And how the, one of the employees, his co-employees saw him in a car with these little colored children went back and told the boss that they were, he was not gonna work with my father any longer because he was colored. He didn't say he was a colored man, he said he had a carful of colored children. And we noticed, and my mother noticed too, there were-our neighbors would come over and say, "Somebody called on the phone and wanted to know, 'is Mr. Montgomery white or colored?'" And they said, "Well, we don't know." You know, "We don't know what he is." And "Why don't you call him?" Well they wouldn't call. So that was my first hearing of the difference between races. Because as children, we were not allowed to call each other names or call each other black or, you know, anything, so we just didn't experience that. So my real first experience in the world was that job at Grant's. And then my second experience was the following year in the summer I became sixteen. And I went to apply for an operator's license. And the clerk said to me, she went through the regular routine, my name, address and all that. And then she looked up at me and she said, "Race?" I said, "Race?" I said, "What difference does it make?" I said, "What does race have to do with driving a car?" "We have to put it on the application." I said, "Put whatever you want to put on there it then." So she put "N" down there, not-yeah, "N" or "C," I don't know whether they used "N", "C," or what then. But anyway, that was my second experience with-so this is what started my, my change. My thinking of the difference in how we were being treated differently from others. And so I was sixteen then, so I started realizing what racism really was. And then, in jobs, I didn't realize it too much because my first major, the first major job I had was when I was about nineteen. I had moved from Louisville to Buffalo and it was during the war in 1943. And I was hired at Curtis Wright airplane factory making airplanes. And I went to riveting school. And after I riveted for, oh, a couple months, a supervisor came to me and asked me would I like a promotion, and I said of course. Said, "Would you like to be an expediter?" I said, "Is it a promotion?" He said yes. I didn't know what an expediter was. And I said, "Oh yes, I'll take it." Well I found out it was a better job because it was a job-every morning I'd go into the office, I'd pick up the clipboard and it would have a list of parts that were missing and I would just trace those parts down and expedite them to the next department, that type of thing. But all the years before I ran for elective office, I noticed one thing: when I started on the job, it was not too long before I would get promoted. And I guess, I guess it my aggressiveness or I don't know what it was. But if I was on a job two months, I'd get promoted to supervisor. I guess they saw some leadership quality in me, I don't know. I didn't do a lot of talking. I never did a lot of playing. I stuck to the job, and I'd learn everybody's job around me. I'd know how to do everybody's job. So- BROWN: So mostly your awareness of racism resulted from maybe seeing what happened to other people because you had such luck, you had such luck and success. POWERS: Well-to begin with, I didn't think it was, you know, with the two incidents that I told you about. I knew then, but when I went to Buffalo I didn't experience it too much there in the, because it was during the war and that's when things started to, started loosening up and there was more integration because the war was on and the men were gone, the women were doing the men's work and that kind of thing. Salaries were the same, there was no differentiation between salaries. And then I left there and I went to New York, and I stayed there for awhile and then I walked into Jersey and that's where you heard the story about the people who lived on the hill. And then of course, I personally did not experience any, any deep-seated, deep-rooted racism after that. But then, I knew overall what was happening to my race as a whole. And that, that I didn't like. BROWN: (Unintelligible) after the war? POWERS: Right. And then with the soldiers even, who were segregated in the, in the armed services, and the things that were happening to them. I started to get more involved and more interested in what was happening. And that's how, really, I got involved. BROWN: Could you say it was partly the times? POWERS: Could have been the times, but-the reason I got involved in the civil rights movement had nothing to do with that really, as I think about it. Because, let's see-in 1967, yes, nineteen sixty--, I got involved in sixty---well in `62, I got involved in politics. And we had just, we had just had an ordinance passed in the city for public accommodations. And blacks were just starting to go to the hotels and to the restaurants in 1962. Because when I started in politics, the office, the headquarters was in the Seelbach Hotel, and of course, prior to that time, blacks had not been able to eat there nor stay there. And so I had freedom there in the hotel when I started working in the campaign. And I saw a great difference. Then in 1963, I worked for Governor Edward T. Breathitt, who was running for governor in `63. I worked in his primary and his general election. And then in 1964 is when I worked with an organization called Allied Organizations for Civil Rights. And they were supporting the state public accommodations bill. That's when I really got involved in the civil rights movement. Because I worked in, in the office for two or three months everyday promoting this March on Frankfort and organizing it with the editor of the black newspaper, the Louisville Defender, Frank Stanley, Jr. And- BROWN: What at that point would you say was your greatest motivation for doing that? POWERS: For public accommodations statewide. So that blacks could stay at hotels, and could eat in restaurants, and just live like anybody else, and go wherever they had the money, they could afford to go. So that was my greatest motivation. And then I had experienced another incident, racial incident. I, in 1942, that's when I married Davis. And now he was stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas and I left Buffalo, New York, and I came through Louisville, stayed a couple of days and then I boarded the Greyhound bus here and went to Texas to get married. And between Louisville and Nashville, I believe it was, Tennessee-we arrived in a little town called Dixon, Tennessee by about eleven o'clock at night., on bus. And there was a black-I was sitting in the seat right in the front of the back seat. And there was a black soldier sitting next to me who was seated in the seat right in front. And the bus driver stopped the bus out in the middle of nowhere at eleven o'clock at night, pitch dark, and came back to us and told us to move to the back. And so I said, "Well I'm not moving." And I said, "This seat is just fine for me. I'm not moving." And so he kept on and he started, oh, we had a confrontation, was arguing back and forth and he finally said, "Well you're either gonna move back to the back of the bus or you're gonna get off the bus." Well I looked out there and (laughs) it was pitch dark. I didn't want to get thrown off the bus in the pitch dark. I didn't know where I was even. So this soldier said to me, "Let's just move on back so there won't be any trouble." Well I didn't mind trouble, but I saw that he was worried, you know (Brown laughs), so I said, "Well okay, if that's the way you feel about it." So we moved on to the back of the bus. The back seat of the bus, that long seat. And we got into, I don't remember, I believe it was Nashville. We changed buses at Nashville so I got off the bus, and so the next bus is about four o'clock in the morning then. Wherever it was there in Tennessee. And I thought, well when I get on this bus, I'm just going on to the back so I won't have any problems. It's the first time I'd ever been South. And so I got on the bus and I went all the way back to the back and sat down. Before the driver pulled off, he came back and he says, "Move on up here to the front." Now at four o'clock in the morning, it wasn't real light. I said, well he doesn't know who I am, you know, but as soon as he finds out, he's gonna kick me back to the back of the bus. So I got up and I sat up on the second seat from the front. So I was very self-conscious though, because I thought he was looking at, you know, soon as it started getting daylight, looking to see well is she or isn't she? Well anyway, by that time, I was on into Texas, and so I got on down to Texas and stayed down there two weeks. And when I left there, coming back, I got on the bus and I was sitting near the back and I was sitting next to the window and everybody else on the bus was white. And somebody sitting on the other side of the aisle says, "This is the first bus I been on didn't have any niggers on it." And I just looked out the window (laughs), I said, "oh Lord, I'm gonna get thrown off again" (laughs). But you learn from, you know, it's sad to say but the same things happen today with my grandson. He's having problems down at Murray State University. He's had two fights. He's only been there since August. Calloway County is dry. Marshall County, the next county, is wet. Well those young football players are going over there and drinking beer and have parties on Friday nights, Saturdays, and whatever. So he went over there with some of his friends they invited, one fellow lives in Marshall County, took him over there to some little club they went to, and somebody called him a nigger and he just hit him. There he is, that one in the that big picture there. BROWN: (Unintelligible)? POWERS: Um-hm. And he just had a fight there. And the following week, they went to a private party and they were standing out, he said some, a group of them, and he was the only black person, and this fellow drove up in a truck and told him that "Nigger, get out of town" or something. He says, "We don't want no niggers in this town." And they don't have any black people in Marshall County, see. And so he must have said something to him. Said, "Well you just get out of the truck." So he got out of the truck and my grandson beat him up. Put him in the hospital. He has, his mouth is wired up and a cast on his foot or leg or something. Anyway, he had to go to court about that. And it's not over yet because it's laid over until November, date in November. But I said all that to say that the same thing is going on today that was going on then. For awhile there it was more subtle, but now it's getting, it's raising its ugly head again, that hate. So it's a constant struggle with race with black people. But back to the Senate. BROWN: So- POWERS: So-oh, you got something you want to ask me? BROWN: Once you had an idea that you were ready to start- POWERS: Yeah, you asked me that, um-hm. BROWN: Okay. Well, back to the Senate then. Who would you say provided your most important support in your race, in your Senate race, in terms of financial support and also endorsements? POWERS: Okay. After working in campaign headquarters for five years, in 1966-I'm ahead of my story. I want to back up a little bit. Because I want to go back to the March on Frankfort. That was the year that I first met Dr. Martin Luther King and also Jackie Robinson, because they were principal speakers for the march. And we were not, we were successful in passing the public accommodations in Frankfort in `66, but I had work in the House of Representatives in the bill room, placing bills in the legislators' books, in the House of Representatives. And my legis-, my representative had got me that little job because I wanted to be up there lobbying for the public accommodations bill. So he got me this little job up there so I'd have some money for commuting back and forth to Frankfort. And those legislators were just so snobbish when I asked them to vote for the bill, and they just really looked down their nose at me and I didn't like it. And I thought, "well, okay, so what I need to do is get my own seat here." Never thought about sex, race, nothing. I just needed a seat up here because if I get a seat up here, I'm gonna know how to vote and I'm gonna vote right. That's what I thought in `66. So I didn't think much about it until `67 when I was sitting in the kitchen there reading the paper and I saw where the senator from this district was moving in the East End. Well, I knew if he moved out of the district, he'd have to give up the seat. And the thought just came to me (snaps finger), you know, to run for that seat. So, I'd worked on those campaigns five years, and I'd watched other candidates, how they organized the precincts, how they got endorsements, and how they raised money. And I thought, well I'm ready. The very next day I went down to the courthouse and filed for the State Senate. And nobody thought I could win, but I thought I could. I've always thought I could do anything I set my mind to do. Always felt that way. I had high esteem (laughs). And I did, always did. And right away I set up appointments with organizations: Greater Louisville Labor Council, AFL-CIO- BROWN: How did you select the ones that you went after? POWERS: Well you see, by having worked in those campaigns I knew the ones who, who contributed to campaigns. I had the list. Louisville Educational Association, Louisville Medical Association, Chiropract--, any association that I could get to listen to me, I'd go and talk to them. I'd tell them all these things that I wanted to do. The reason I wanted to get elected to the Senate. I was endorsed by each one of them. BROWN: Why do you think that they were convinced by you? POWERS: I guess I was just convincing because I was for the right thing and I knew that. I had a little platform, you know. I told them what I was for. I was for open housing and all these other good things. And the people I wanted to represent, and they endorsed me. And of course endorsements meant money, financial contributions. At that time, they didn't have PAC's. And it was not as expensive to run then as it would be now. So maybe I raised close to three thousand dollars in the first election. BROWN: And you could a campaign on three thousand- POWERS: Oh yes. And my district was smaller. I only had twenty-two precincts. And we didn't have, didn't have television, political commercials like they do now. Mostly radio and printed material. That was mostly the campaign material. BROWN: and door to door? POWERS: Door to door, right. So the local Democratic Party-there were thirty-six races that year, including the governor's race. Henry Ward was the candidate for governor. And the local party endorsed every race but this Senatorial District. And the reason they didn't make an endorsement in that race was my opponent was a white male chiropractor who was a loyal Democrat and who was, who worked in the party and I'd never done really any politics at all, but prior to `62. And at the same time, they didn't want, they didn't want to alienate him and they didn't want to alienate me because they had had a run-in with me before, in `64. Because I ran for chairman of the district when they never had a black nor a woman as chairman of a legislative district in Jefferson County. And won by two votes. And the Democratic headquarters sent the big guns out there to defeat me. But they didn't. I won by two votes because I demanded a secret ballot. And their attorney says, "Oh you can't do that," and I had that little Roberts Rules of Order, right up there now, and I flipped it open and I says, "Says right here I can do it." And so I did and that's how I won. Because they would not have voted with their hand up because they were, these were all the little politicos from, from Democrat headquarters, afraid of the director down there. So anyway, that race was not endorsed by-so I knew I was gonna have to really be careful because I didn't know what they were planning to do. So the night before the election I received several calls from precinct captains who said that the sample ballots, and they used to be about three feet long- BROWN: Oh wow(??). POWERS: Oh yeah, sample ballots used to be this long. There were thirty-six races and it was a great, long sample ballot. And they'd have all this material in the shopping bag for the precinct captains, including the sample ballots. And in the slot for the Senate in the 33rd district, they had stamped my opponent's name in, see. And this what they, this was their little ploy, how they were gonna defeat me. So several precinct captains called me and told me they got the material and his name was stamped in. And I said, "okay," I said, "I'll be there first thing in the morning soon as the polls open." So I made my rounds. I went to the big voting precincts first, the precincts that I knew I could win in. I went to those first. I called the captain out and I said, "May I see your sample ballot?" And they showed it to me, and I said, "You see where this has been stamped in right here? This is not printed like the rest, is it?" They said "no." I said, "If-," I said, "I'm taking all of these sample ballots." I say, "It's been done illegally. If you don't give them to me, I'm gonna have you locked up." Well I didn't know whether I could have them locked up or not, but at least I convinced them. So I just took them and threw them in the trunk of my car. I went around and I picked up all of the sample ballots in the district. Well all my workers at precincts, they're passing out my material. See (laughs)? So that's how I won. See? BROWN: Did you have a pretty good voter turnout? POWERS: In prim--, no. It's a low turnout. It still is a low turnout in, in most districts in the primary. BROWN: Where- POWERS: I don't remember, it seems like to me it was about a difference of, a majority of, eight hundred or something like that. It wasn't a great turnout. Maybe three thousand, thirty-one hundred, something like that. BROWN: Were any of your other elections through the years close? POWERS: Yes. In every election except the very last one, I had formidable opposition. My first election after that was, my opponent was- BROWN: In 1970 then? POWERS: Let's see, `67, the next one- BROWN: '69- POWERS: was `69-no, no, I was there four years. Seventy-one. Seventy-one, um-hm. My opponent was Lyman Johnson. I don't know if you've heard of him or not. Lyman Johnson, okay. He was my first opponent. And of course I defeated him soundly. And my next opponent was, in 1975, was an attorney by the name of Neville Tucker, he was a judge and attorney. Now these are all black opponents, now. My first, first one was Dr. Riggs(??), who was white. My second opponent was Lyman Johnson, who was a black teacher. My third one, in `75, was Neville Tucker who was an attorney and a judge, and who later went to-well, in between the election, he went to penitentiary for tax fraud. And, that was `75, in `79, Gerald Neal the-my successor today was my opponent. Now that race was so close, it was only a fifty-nine majority. Very close. BROWN: How were you able to win that one, do you know? POWERS: Yes. Now, that year, `78, and the reason it was so close, I didn't really work that year in the campaign. My mother was sick, and my mother died that December. And being the only girl, I was the one had to do for her. And so I didn't really have the time to get out and campaign like I had previously. I think my mother died on December the 29th or something like that, because the funeral was on the fourth and it was the day that we were, the first day of the session. Of course I wasn't there because my mother was being buried. But anyway, that whole six months prior to the election, I was busy with my mother and her illness. So I didn't get to campaign much and my opponent was out just working like crazy. But I almost lost it. I came home election day, election day I went out early as I usually do, and I went to most precincts and visited precincts and because I always say, "If you don't have it organized before election day, it's too late." But that afternoon, I came home. I guess it was about three o'clock. And after I walked in the house, I thought-just something just told me to go down here to my precinct, to my polling place which was right across the street, down at the corner of the alley. So I went down there and when I walked down there, my opponent and the chairman of the district were standing there laughing and talking. He was supporting my opponent. Male thing, you know. And I walked up and I smiled and I said, "How you all doing?" Went right on past. There were about sixty-some people in line. They were lined up from the polling place all out in the yard and out in the alley. I went right down the line. It was almost, it was closer to about 5:30 because it wasn't long before the polls were closed, and I said, "Don't forget to vote for me," and I gave them my name. Went right down to everyone, all the way up to the door. And I always will believe that those peop--, those were the people that who put me over (both laugh). I always believed that. Because there was about sixty of them but I won it by fifty-nine votes. So I said, "Well they put me over" (laughs). Yeah. It was close. Well, that night, they said it was a majority, I won it by a majority of a hundred and twenty, but it ended up, I think, after the recount, fifty- nine. But I didn't care if it had been but one (both laugh). Wouldn't make any difference as long as I won. And so then in nineteen-that was 1979, then in nineteen eighty---`83, I had no opposition. And of course-I knew in `83 that I was not gonna run again, but I didn't tell anybody. Because I knew that when that term, that was a five-year term, and I knew that when that term was up, I would be sixty-five and also I would be vested in my retirement. It was, there was just no need for me to run. And I just thought, well it's just time to let a younger person with new ideas and, and more energy to have the seat. So my opponent came to me and asked me would I support him and I asked him some questions, how he stood on different issues, that was all I was concerned about. I wanted to make sure that the person who succeeded me was gonna be for some of the things that I had worked so hard for. And he was, and he and I became the best of friends and during this session, this year, he called me almost weekly to ask my advice on different bills and I then called him on some that I didn't know whether he'd paid attention to or not. So it was, it's a good relationship we have now. And he's doing a good job. BROWN: Do you have a sense of overall in your, in your district who voted for you? Who your supporters were? POWERS: Well, everybody I've met told me they voted for me (laughs). And some of them didn't even live in the district, so I know they didn't (laughs). But no, most of the black ministers supported me and that always helped in the black community because their parishioners listen to what they have to say. And they would ask them to vote for me in the pulpit. And I would visit a lot of the churches and I knew a lot of people and with, and having a large family like that, with all those brothers, and their wives and their children, they all worked at the polls for me, they were people I could trust and I knew they were not gonna pull any tricks. And so that helped a lot. And they all lived in the district, um-hm. Yeah. BROWN: How about forces of opposition? Do you know, do you ever, do you know who led forces of opposition in various campaigns? POWERS: Well, yes. I know some of the people who opposed me in the, in the elections, you know. They were leading the opposition. Mattie Jones for one. You've heard of her, haven't you? Mattie Jones ran against me once and she ran against my successor too. But I didn't support her, I supported him. And there are others- BROWN: Do you know why? POWERS: Jay Ben--- BROWN: Were their certain issues? POWERS: Well no, it was not on issues. It was more a personality thing, you know. "If she can do it, I want that seat. She won it so now, you know, I want it. I want to take that seat." And I used to tell them all the time, I said, "Go get another seat." You know, "run for another seat." You know, "don't run for this one because I want to keep this one until I'm tired." I used to tell them that. Said, "I'm running for this one, because you can't win." I told Gerry Neal when he ran in `79, I said, "You can't win." I said, "I'm not doing much campaigning, but you can't win." Because by that time people knew me, you know, they knew what I had done. And I'd go in a grocery story and people just come up to me and say, you know, "keep on doing what you're doing." I didn't receive any letters from my constituents in twenty years telling me to vote for something or not vote for it. They had so much confidence in me, they'd tell me "We know you're gonna vote for the right thing." And they, they knew that. Because they knew what I was for. Because, you know, I was always being written up in the paper. I'll show you, I'll show you my books of newspaper clippings. Because I was always speaking out. See, I didn't go there to be quiet. I was always a reserved person and most of my colleagues, my fellow students who were in school with me, they just can't believe that I talked as much as I did after I got in politics. I was always so quiet. But I had to talk. Had to speak out. I was like a lone voice in the Senate (laughs). You know, the first bill I introduced was open housing. But when I went there, I was about, what? Thirty, maybe? About thirty-nine or forty. And I didn't look too bad at that age. And they just thought I was a nice person, nice personality, nice smile, and thought I'd be easy to get along with. Well I was, up to a point. And when I introduced open housing, they just, they were just shocked. Yeah, they were shocked. Told me, "You couldn't get, you can't get this passed." I said, "Yes I can." I said, "You watch me." And I'm sure you heard that on some of those there- BROWN: Yeah that's a good story (laughs). POWERS: Yeah, "you just watch me." BROWN: Well what other bills do you consider your most important accomplishments? POWERS: I've got so many of them. Oh, one thing. I had race eliminated from operator's license. Because of the incident when I was sixteen. I never forgot that. And that was one that I-it was like I was saying to that clerk, "Now, now" (both laugh), you know. And displaced homemakers, certificate-of-need, that was my original bill for hospitals and nursing homes. I tell you the truth, I for--, I really forget them. I saw a list of them here the other night, day- BROWN: Were there any others that you, that you made- POWERS: I think the reason that one's most outstanding to me was because it was-I just had gotten there. I was new. BROWN: Right. POWERS: Yeah, you know. And it was so exciting. You know, it was just so exciting. Yeah. BROWN: Were there other ones where you used the same technique of voting for someone else's bill so that you could gain support for yours? POWERS: Maybe, but I don't remember. The thing about it is, after I was there, it was just like I told you about the jobs. When I got to the Senate in 1968, in 1970 I became chairperson of a committee, and that meant I had some power. And what I used to do is, if I had a bill- BROWN: I think we'll have to turn this over. Excuse me. POWERS: Okay, sure. [End Tape #1, Side #1] [Start Tape #1, Side #2] POWERS: If someone had a bill in my committee, I didn't bring the bill up until I got commitment from them on my bills. If they had a bill in my committee, before I bring it up as chair of that committee, I had to have a commitment that you're gonna vote on my bills, um-hm. You understand what I'm saying? BROWN: Sure. Did you ever find that you had to vote for things that you didn't want to vote for, by doing that though? POWERS: No, I don't think-I may have voted for maybe one or two that I found out later that I probably-but there were never any extreme bills, no real controversial bills. Because, you know, I was kind of down-the-line person. I was one way or the other. I was for something or I was against it. Now another bill I passed did not become law though, was to, it was really a bill to outlaw the Ku Klux Klan. To prohibit anyone from wearing a mask and to prevent anyone from setting fire to a cross on anybody's property without their permission. Passed it in the Senate, which shocked me. But I found that many of those legislators hated the Klan, but when the bill got, and I got all kinds of threatening (phone rings in background) phone calls and letters- BROWN: Oh, really? POWERS: Oh yeah. They even called my husband. They called my parents. Threatened them and-because they didn't want that bill passed. [Someone in background calls, "Georgia."] BROWN: Want me to pause it? POWERS: Okay. Pause it. BROWN: Okay. [Pause in tape] POWERS: Oh, the Klan Bill. But anyway, it passed in the House, in the Senate, and went to the House and I had a fellow to handle it in the House and he got a lot of threatening calls and he backed down on the bill. And so I never could get it out of committee in the House. But those were some trying times because, you know, I'm not gonna say I wasn't fighting because I saw these pick-up trucks up there from Jefferson County, with these rifles hanging in the back of them, and I said, "Well, if they shoot me (laughs), they just shoot me." You know, what else can I, what can I do? And that's the way I felt in the South when I was marching in the South. So if you get shot, it's just, you know, you just get shot. You gone. Was never really afraid. Never had the fear, unh-huh. Maybe I should have (both laugh), but I didn't. Never. BROWN: Were you ever threatened for any other positions that you've supported? POWERS: No, that's the only one I was ever threatened about, um-hm. No. BROWN: What happened to the Displaced Homemakers Bill? Was it- POWERS: Well, we couldn't get the financing for it. We were able to get the law on the books, but we couldn't get the state to finance, to put up any money. But- BROWN: So it's still- POWERS: No, there have been several organizations that have set up displaced homemakers. I think the Y, different other organizations had displaced homemakers programs in their different programs. Um-hm, yeah. BROWN: Were there any other bills that grew right out of your personal experience like your operator's one? POWERS: I can't think of any. No, not out of my personal experience. Just the operator's and the open housing bill because years ago, I was in real estate. I was a broker. And I knew that there were so many areas that blacks could not purchase property in. I was a broker for ten years. As a matter of fact, when I was a broker this whole street was all white, and you couldn't buy a house in here. A black person couldn't. And you were just restricted where you could buy and so I was, really got involved in open housing. Because I always felt that a person should be able to live where they could afford. And a lot of people say to me now, "I thought you moved down to the East End." And I say "no," I say, "I've lived in the West End all my life." And I don't see any reason to go anyplace. I been in this house thirty years. And a few blocks, I was raised on Grant Avenue, so yeah I'm perfectly content. BROWN: You said your constituents didn't write you letters but- POWERS: No. BROWN: did they contact you verbally very much? POWERS: No. BROWN: No, they didn't called you or- POWERS: Unh-huh. All the other legislators were getting so much mail on different issues, and, pro and con, and I kept thinking, "Well wonder why my constituents don't write me?" They don't. But they didn't, they just didn't write. They-maybe I'd get a letter now and then from somebody congratulating me on the stand I took, but other than that, they didn't write me to tell me how to vote or what to promote or anything, and it was really amazing to me. Because most of those legislators met with their constituents every week, or Fridays when they'd come home. BROWN: And you didn't do that? POWERS: Unh-huh. No. Because, like I say, I was always on television and always in the newspaper. So they kept up with me through the media. Um-hm, yeah. And I was always on the floor speaking for or against something. And we had busing issue to come up during that time. And I was opposed to the anti-busing measures that were introduced and I was very vocal on those. BROWN: So they really knew where you stood on it? POWERS: They knew where I stood. And I think there's, the greatest tribute that was paid to me, when I retired, was the editorial in the Courier-Journal. First it had "The People's Advocate", the one article. Another article, right there on the wall, says, "You Knew Where She Stood." Then I led the opposition to the merger in 1982 and `83 here in Jefferson County. There's a referendum to merge Louisville and the unincorporated areas in the county. I led the opposition against that and defeated it. BROWN: Why did you decide to take that position? POWERS: Because the charter commission that was established, and I was one of the appointed members, was supposed to create the charter and our first meeting (phone rings), they came out with a charter. And I did not agree with parts of the charter. So I opposed it. There were twenty-six, twenty-seven, members of that commission, and I think there were seven of us who opposed it when it came up for a vote. And immediately I organized a group called Volunteers Opposed to Enlargement. And we used an acronym of V.O.T.E., and so I worked everyday at the office against the merger. So then they said, well, you know, all the business people were in favor of it and all the, the mayor and the county judge were favoring it, and they said well that was just something that happened. So they brought it back up in `83, and I told them. I said, "Well, bring it up. We're just gonna defeat it again." So we defeated it by even a larger margin. First year we defeated it by fourteen hundred votes. In `83, we defeated it by eight thousand. And we never raised over twelve thousand dollars each year. They spent three hundred and fifty thousand dollars each year. But you see, you show them that you cannot, you've got to include people if you want them to support your ideas and your programs. You can't establish it and bring it to them, say "Here, vote for it." You can't do that. You've got to bring them in and include them into the planning. Now, I could, I could have been in favor or merging the city and the entire county. But you see they were gonna just merge the city with the unincorporated areas and then ninety-five small cities out here left standing-autonomous cities. So you were gonna have those-you still were gonna have the ninety-five small cities, plus the merged Louisville and unincorporated areas. And I was opposed to that. I said, "We gonna merge? Let's merge like they did in Fayette County." Of course it was different in Fayette County because you only had one city, one major city. Well, we have ninety-six cities in Jefferson County. Let's merge all of them. But everybody wanted to keep their own little kingdom. Every little mayor and county judge, mayor, wanted to keep their own little fiefdom there and be excluded. So that's the reason I opposed it, um-hm. BROWN: I know one thing that I wanted to get more of a story on was you mentioned having been on the Rules Committee for a short time? POWERS: Um-hm. BROWN: Because you, they told you that it was a powerful position, but you didn't find it so when you were there- POWERS: Governor Carroll- BROWN: and I was wondering if you could tell the story of that? POWERS: Yes. Governor Carroll came to me and asked me would I like to be on the Rules Committee. Every time they mentioned the Rules Committee in the newspaper even, they called it "most prestigious committee." BROWN: Why, why is that? Why did they- POWERS: I don't know why they called it, but at the time I said, well, maybe it is. BROWN: Well what did the Rules Committee _______(??)? POWERS: Well the Rules Committee is the committee that the bills come into, come into that committee and they're reported to be voted on in the Senate, see. Before the bills can be voted on, it has to come to the Rules Committee because all the bills come through there. And they select the bills that go to the floor for a vote. Well many of those bills die in the Rules Committee. So, anyway, I told them, well I, I would accept it. I got on the Rules Committee and went to the first meeting. Now they had a list of bills that they were gonna bring up. And it was just formality. The chairman says, "so-and-so, so-and-so, all in favor?" He had his people all ready. They just "yes, yes." I said, "Wait a minute, I want to ask a question." "Too late. It's already voted on and gone." You couldn't ask, you didn't, you couldn't ask a question about the bill, you couldn't find out anything about it. They just, the chairman and two or three people would decide which bills would go to the floor and you had no say. So that next year, I said "No thank you." So I went back to being chair of Labor and Industry. BROWN: Was that, do you feel, the most important committee you were on? POWERS: Let's see. When I first went there I was a member of Cities, Elections and Constitutional Amendments, and Labor and Industry. I think I stayed-no, I was on Health and Welfare Committee. I was on Health and-I chaired the Health and Welfare Committee for six years. Then I went on the Rules Committee for two years. Then I chaired Labor and Industry for ten years. So the most important committee I was on was Labor and Industry. BROWN: What work, what was the most important work you feel that you did on the Labor and Industry Committee? POWERS: Dealing with worker's compensation. And it is worker's compensation, I saw to that. It was "workmen's" compensation when I went there. And I passed a bill to change that (laughs). You know, a lot of little bills like that, you know, change little stuff here and there. BROWN: Made an impact. POWERS: Yes. Worker's compensation. Dealing with employment. And to me that was very important, um-hm. When I was on the Health and Welfare Committee, when I chaired that committee, we were mostly dealing with welfare issues. And I sort of got tired of that. Now, I heard from a lot of folk when I was on, when I chaired the Health and Welfare Committee, not necessarily my constituents but from other areas, wanting an increase in welfare and that kind of thing, you know, increase the rate. And, but I feel like Labor and Industry was the most important committee that I participated in. Particularly as chairperson. BROWN: How did worker's compensation change over the time that you were working on, in that area? POWERS: It changed in several ways. There was, there were constantly increases. There was not the, we reduced the waiting period. It was very complicated too. It was several years before I understood what worker's compensation was all about because I had not had any training in the area and I had not been involved in it. So you just really had to learn as you go along and that's what I did. But those lobbyists teach you too. Um-hm, they train you. Well- BROWN: How big a staff did you have at the Senate? POWERS: We didn't have a personal staff, we had a pool. The Legislative Research Commission, and they were available to us all the time. And a typing pool with the secretaries, typists. And the last six years when I was there, we had a little, little office which was nice because we had a telephone, little desk where you could take a constituent, sit and talk. But prior to that, you did all your work in the halls (laughs). BROWN: Is that right? POWERS: Yeah, you just, yeah, you'd come down the hall and the lobbyists are just grabbing, you know. And you really had no place to work. But what my colleague in the House, Representative Mae Street Kidd, and I did when we first, we went there at the same time. We stayed at a hotel with adjoining rooms. And at night, we would sit up and read the bills and- now, my campaign chairman when I ran the first time, was Ralph Cunningham. He is now Deputy Personnel Commissioner in Frankfort since Huddleston was defeated. But prior to Huddleston being defeated, he worked for him in Washington for twelve years. But he was my first campaign manager, and he became a reading clerk in the House of Representatives and at night, Representative Kidd and Ralph Cunningham and myself would-but, wait a minute, I got to back up because when I first went to Frankfort, we stayed in a private home. Because when I went to the hotel, they didn't have any rooms for me. See. BROWN: Why (laughs)? POWERS: Well, because I was black (laughs). And, yeah. This is in 1968. BROWN: Is that right? POWERS: Yeah. Yeah (Brown laughs). You had to stay in a private home. Yeah, when I first worked there, I couldn't get a room at a hotel. State Senator couldn't get a room in a hotel (both laugh). BROWN: Oh my goodness. POWERS: So this friend who worked for Lieutenant Governor Wilson Wyatt, she and I became friends, very good friends, and we still are, although she lives in Cleveland. I stayed at her house. She had a little three-room shotgun house, but she was just a fine person. She was from Harlan, Kentucky, Marlene Tentman. And she had finished Central State University and she was working in the lieutenant governor's office, so we stayed at her house and when we'd leave the capitol, we'd go there and she would cook dinner. She'd always have dinner ready, and she'd cook cornbread and she'd cook all kinds of good food, make peach cobblers every night. She whipped that stuff up in a hurry while we were reading bills. And then, if I was gonna speak on a bill the following day, we'd write my speech. And then we'd go to bed and she would type it. I slept with her and he slept on the couch in the living room, and she would type it while we were sleeping. BROWN: Wow. How many years did you do that? POWERS: Did that until, I think two, let's see, one session. Just the first session, `68. Um- hm, first session. BROWN: Where did you stay after that? POWERS: Ramada Inn, um-hm. Ramada Inn. BROWN: I bet you got used to living in that Ramada Inn, then (laughs)- POWERS: Oh yeah. But one thing I, I don't know, I guess it was because of the way my mother had taught me, but I didn't do much socializing because I always found that when you socialized with those men, and they're out partying and drinking, they get familiar and then rumors get started. So my mother had always taught me, never mix business with pleasure. So I never did socialize too much with them, so they always had a lot of respect for me. And that's more than I can say that they had for some of the other women who later came to the House of Representatives. BROWN: I think that's an issue that's more and more difficult, as women have become more a part of the business world. POWERS: Yes. It is, um-hm. And some women feel like they have to do certain things to get, to move up. Unfortunately, unfortunately. BROWN: But then again, you also tend to meet people that way. POWERS: Um-hm. Well, see, I wasn't really looking for anybody. Had a husband. Well, I had one after 1973, but I didn't have- BROWN: Was it hard at all to be a divorced woman in the Senate? Did that change your position in any way? POWERS: No. A lot of people told me I should not have gotten a divorce, you know having been just-cause I filed for divorce. I'm the one who initiated the divorce. They said, "because people won't vote for you if you're divorced." I said, "Well, I'm sorry (laughs). I'm getting, I'm getting a divorce." And it was never an issue, uhn-huh. Never was. BROWN: So how much would you be away from home in general when you were- POWERS: Well commute-didn't commute during the session until, well the first three or four weeks, which when you know, there was really not a lot going on, I commuted. And the last, I guess the last thirty days, forty days, I would just stay. Because it was too much driving back and forth everyday, but I'd go up on Monday and come back on Friday. I did that. And then in 1979 after my mother died, and went in session in nineteen eighty---`81? No we, that's when we changed to `80, to even years. My father was a widower and so I didn't want him to be at home by, at home by himself, so I got him a little job up there and that's when I started getting an apartment with two bedrooms. And so he went with me and those were my greatest years with my father. I really got to know him in those later years. And every session he would miss- I'm looking at him now, talking to him (laughs), um-hm. Yeah. I really got to know him. He was really a fine person. My mother was too. They were very young when they married. My mother was fourteen, and I think he was probably about seventeen, eighteen. BROWN: I bet he was pretty proud of you. POWERS: Oh yes, he was. Yeah, a lot of the people in Frankfort, around the capitol, thought he had been a Senator. They thought that he preceded me. BROWN: He just had that kind of presence? POWERS: Um-hm, he did. And I just, it was so funny. I don't know if you heard that story or if I told the story, you know, I have so many. So, you know, it's been such a long time and so much, but I know the first time he went up there with me, one of the senators, "Fibber" McGee, from Jefferson County met him out in the hall and was talking to him, and he came on into the Chamber and he said to me, came up to my desk and I was standing there. He said, "Georgia," says "how long have you known Ben Montgomery?" And I said, "Oh I've known him a little while." I said, "Why?" Because I wanted to see what he was gonna say about him. He said, "I want to tell you something," he said, "he's one prince of a man." I said, "Well thank you, 'Fibber,' he's my father." And I thought he was gonna faint (laughs). He said, "Well I worked for him for five years at Standard," and I said, "You did?" No, fifteen years, he said "I worked for Ben fifteen years, and he," I thought that man was gonna faint. He said, "He's what!?" I said, "He's my father" (laughs). I thought he was gonna faint (laughs). And then Danny Meyer, Senator Danny Meyer, from here in the city came up to me and he says, "Georgia, you know Ben Montgomery?" I said "yes." He said, "Is he your father?" I said, "That's what they say." He said, "Well, I worked for him for five years." I said, "You did?" He says, "yes," he said, "he was a fine, he's a fine man." I said "I think so too" (laughs). But "Fibber" was so funny. He said "How long you known him?" And I said, "I known him a little while." I wanted to see what he was gonna say about him, and he said, "Well he's one prince of a man." I said, "Well I think so too." I said, "He's my dad." "He's your dad?" "Yeah" (both laugh). BROWN: Was it ever difficult balancing your home life here and on Cecil Avenue with being away so much? POWERS: No because I had, mostly had to let everything go at home when I was away. And I just wasn't here that much. Wasn't here that much. But one thing, my husband Powers, he was such an understanding person. And he, he was in public life himself. He was an automobile salesman and he had been in public life a long time. So he's more outgoing, extroverted and, and he understood. And my other husband was an introvert, and he didn't like public life and he didn't like meeting people and so it was just a totally different thing with him. BROWN: How did you meet Mr. Powers? POWERS: Oh, I met him through a friend years ago. I knew him years ago. I been knowing him for years, he and his wife and family. Yeah, I had known him, um-hm. His wife died in `72. BROWN: Well I'd like to, I know you talked about this a little bit before, but I'd like to talk about it a little more, is how do you think you were perceived by the other senators in the Senate? And how did that change over time? POWERS: From what I've read, some of their comments I've read, since I, during my retirement, Mike Moloney for one stated that I was, he thought I was the conscience of the Senate. So I thought that was very complimentary, because I always brought up issues that most of them in there did not think about or did not have time to work on. So I thought that was very complimentary, the conscience of the Senate. I made them think about poor people and about sick people and about black people and about women and children. I got along with them very well, I thought. BROWN: How did, how do you explain that? After, you know, not having much political experience before you came there? How do you think it is that you got along so well? POWERS: I always did know how to get along with people. Having been in a supervisory position in different jobs, I had to know how to get along with people. And I think I was selected for supervisory positions because of my being able to get along with people. As a matter of fact, when I, when I got involved in politics, I was on a leave of absence from my job from United States Census Bureau as an IBM supervisor. Yeah, I had about seventy-five girls who worked in my department operating different types of IBM machines, a collator, the reproducer, tabulator, all those machines. And I knew how to operate those machines myself, although I could not keypunch. And I thought when they asked me if I would accept being the supervisor, first thing I said, "But I don't, I don't know how to keypunch." They said, "You don't have to. All you have to know is the theory. You teach the theory and the girls will do the punching." And I thought, "well, that makes sense." So I've just always known how to get along with people. Yeah. BROWN: How do you feel that the other senators, you know, how did your relationship to them change over time, would you say? POWERS: We became closer. It was like, it was like a family really (laughs). It was like a family. When, during the interim, we missed each other and when we saw each other we were happy. And we hugged and we kissed and, you know. And I never had any words with any of them because they did not vote for a bill. I introduced a bill just a couple of years before I retired to-credit card bill-to reduce the interest rate from eighteen percent to five percent above the prime rate. And I had commitments in the committee, the Banking and Industry Committee. They were report the bill on favorably, and somebody got to one of them and when I got there to make my presentation, I used the word "consummate" and they kind of snickered, you know, and I just kept right on going. And a friend of mine who was there with me, who was supportive of this bill, was just highly angry, just very angry. Highly insulted. And she wrote them a letter, um-hm. I came across that letter the other day, a copy of it that she had written to them about that bill, but it didn't get out of the committee. I introduced a bill to abolish capital punishment in schools for children, and I couldn't get it moving, but now that's all the talk this year. They should have eliminated it. I just think it's terrible that these principals and teachers beat children. And I told them in the Senate, I said, "You know, my parents didn't beat me and I don't think that children ought to be beat. I think that, I just think it's wrong and I just don't think it ought to happen." My brothers got plenty (laughs). They got plenty because I used to go get the switches for all them (laughs). But I never got but one. That's when I set the curtains on fire. My father talked about that until he died. He thought that was the greatest thing ever happened. Yeah, he spanked me. I was two years old, and that's what I was here. BROWN: Well who were your strongest allies in the Senate? POWERS: In the Senate? Mike Moloney, David Karem, Danny Meyer. Well some of them are no longer there. I could tell who my enemies were too. Dr. Trevey was one, out of Lexington, Fayette. Just saw in the paper today where somebody is suing his estate. Did you see that? BROWN: Unh-huh. POWERS: Two hundred and some thousand dollars? Claiming he fathered her child (laughs). It's in today's paper, the Courier, Dr. Trevey. That's what, you know, they say what's done in the dark comes out in the light. Was not his wife (laughs). But anyway, he was one, and I could almost always depend on Republicans to vote against legislation that I promoted. I don't know of any Repub--, there were only about eight or nine Republicans in there. And they were hardly ever favoring civil rights legislation. They hardly ever favored anything (laughs). That's a fact. They were anti-everything. And, but I had a few Democrats too. I'll tell you who used to give me a hard time: Gib Downing from Lexington. Gibson Downing, he's an attorney, I think, in Lexington. Boy he used to, he used to amend every-just tried to amend every bill I had out of existence (laughs). That was the first four years I was there. Mazzoli was there when I went there, Ron Mazzoli, Carroll Hubbard, you know, both congressmen now. They were there. Was funny, because-always when I think about them I think of-well, don't want to call them gutless wonders-but on the open housing bill, for instance, I went to Hubbard and asked him could he vote, oh, he couldn't vote for that. He said, "But Georgia," he said, "when it comes up for a vote, do you mind if I step out in the hall?" Now see, I couldn't do that. I'd have, I'd have to vote for it or against it. I said, "Well, if you can't vote for it, please step out in the hall." On Mazzoli, I kept asking him over, "Mazzoli, are you gonna vote for my bill?" "Well, I don't know," he just kept vacillating, vacillating. So what he did when it came up for a vote, he passed. And he was keeping a record, roll-call sheet, and he saw how much it was gonna pass by, and then when the vote was taken, he came, he speaks up and votes in favor of it, see. Oh, some of those men I used to wonder about them. Just wouldn't take a stand. BROWN: Why do you think that was? POWERS: Well, now that I think about it, they probably had, they were ambitious, I guess, and they thought that it would hurt them down in the long run and it may have. Maybe it would have in their districts. Hubbard-I really never held it against them because Hubbard, being from the 1st District, he, I could see how he would have problems voting for an open housing bill. He probably would never get re-elected. And so he had to put some protection around himself, and that's understandable. And Mazzoli, I don't know what his excuse was because Mazzoli's district was right here in Louisville, Jefferson County, and it would not have hurt him to have voted for it right straight out. But he went the roll-call route and then came back and voted for it to show that he voted for it, see. But "Dee" Huddleston was a good friend in the Senate, he was a good friend. He always helped me with my legislation. Tom Garrett out of Paducah was a good friend. As a matter of fact, Tom Garrett taught me a lot about procedure in the Senate when I went there. He was my seatmate. And he taught me how to get bills passed. I'd never been there before, and so I really didn't know, and I never had any political science or didn't know anything about it at all. And he would tell me not to speak too long. And sometimes I get to rolling and he'd just (laughs), just pull my dress, just sit down (laughs), sit down before you kill the bill (laughs). And I'd wind it up and say, "I move to pass this" and go right on. But he was a great help. And the presidents of the Senate were helpful too. Julian Carroll was helpful when he was president. Wendell Ford was helpful when he was president of the Senate. Martha Layne was the least helpful to me, and I thought, you know, by being a woman that she would be real helpful, but she was not. BROWN: Why do you suppose that was? POWERS: I don't know. I don't know why. I don't know why, but she never came down off of that podium (laughs). She just stood up there and looked straight ahead, you know. But Thelma Stovall was helpful in some areas. But Julian, I think was the most helpful to me. And Julian was always very gracious too. He would, he was the only president who would ask me to come up and conduct the Senate and I did that-preside over the Senate about three or four times when he was president of the Senate. But no, the others, they were, they, I guess they just didn't want, didn't want anybody to preside over it but them. And, but most of the time they were running for the governor's seat so they wanted just all the exposure they can get, and that's all of it. Brashear, he never relinquished the position to anybody. Because they had the prerogative to call senators up to preside. If they had to go to the restroom or go someplace or whatever. But Julian Carroll, but Julian was, he was a true politician. He knew the procedure and the workings of politics. He really did. And he was never threatened by any of the senators. He knew where, he was secure in his position, I'll say. Well- BROWN: When you had been there, you know, fifteen years, or twenty years, when you were a more senior member, did you find yourself in a new role in the Senate, with the other senators? POWERS: Oh I let them know that I was the dean of the senate. Oh yeah. BROWN: I bet you let them know that (laughs). POWERS: Yeah, when we'd get into talking about it and everything. I said, "been here longer than anybody else in this Senate." And at that point, I had. BROWN: Did it give you some kind of leverage? POWERS: It should have, but it didn't (laughs). It's not like the United States-I always tried to use it like that, but it didn't work. I was secretary of the caucus, the Democratic caucus, from the first year I was elected until I retired. Twenty-one years. I kept trying to get them to make that a position, a member of Legislative Research Commission. They never would. I was always the secretary of the caucus, the whole time I was there. And I tell you, that used to be a position those men used to fight over. And I thought, after I got it, I said "Well, there's nothing to it. You don't take any notes or anything. You don't do anything. You just got to file." If you have a vote, you take the vote. That's all you do. But they would just fight over that, secretary of the caucus. I don't even know who the secretary is now, since I left. And I don't think they're any women left in the Senate now. BROWN: I don't think so either. POWERS: No, I think Helen Garrett was defeated. There's not a woman in the Senate. Isn't that sad? BROWN: It is sad. POWERS: That's sad. BROWN: Let me, let's get back to that. I- [End Tape #1, Side #2] [Start Tape #2, Side #1] POWERS: husband who died in 1979. He died the same month my mother died. That's the reason I always know when he died. Tom. And I was real happy that she was gonna be there. And I thought well just to have another woman here, at least I know that we can work together and she'll second my motions and I'll second hers. It did not work out that way at all. I was sorely disappointed because she was so different from her husband. She, she was more interested in transportation and-but not people issues. And that surprised me. As a matter of fact, I had difficulty getting her to vote for some of my bills. BROWN: So she wasn't an ally at all? POWERS: No, unh-huh. So it's not always the sex either, I found that out. It's not always the sex of a person because some of those men voted with me more often than she did, because it was rare she voted with me. BROWN: Well, what do you think was, with the people who were your allies, what do you think was the most unifying thing? If it wasn't sex and it couldn't be race since there weren't very many other blacks in the Senate- POWERS: There weren't any others. BROWN: Wasn't there one other at one time? POWERS: In the Senate? BROWN: No? POWERS: Never. BROWN: Never? POWERS: Unh-huh. BROWN: Are you the only black senator the Senate has ever had? Is that right? POWERS: Yes. BROWN: Oh, I thought there was one other besides you? POWERS: No, no. Never. BROWN: So it wasn't sex, but it wasn't race, so what was the unifying factor with you in the Senate? POWERS: I think it would be arrogant for me to say it was my personality (both laugh), but I don't know what it was, but we got along well together, although many times we didn't vote together but we got along well and there was no animosity. I think it probably was respect, I guess, because I think you demand some respect when you chair a committee because their bills are gonna come into your committee and- BROWN: But was there a common theme to your perspective or your approach to the issues, do you think? POWERS: No. Not-I don't think so, unh-huh. BROWN: And well, would you say that, that the Senate was a different place simply because you were there? As a black woman? POWERS: Yes. Yes, they had not experienced anyone like me in the Senate before, and I think they were surprised that I never shed a tear when I lost a bill. I never was angry because I had a bill defeated. Some of them who would vote against my bill, it seemed like it hurt them more than it did me. They'd come to me and they'd, you know, apologize and they'd be very apologetic, but I don't know what it was. I had some defeats on the floor, but they would certainly come to me, those who voted against, and apologize. They'd do that. BROWN: In what way would you say the Senate was a different place because you were there? POWERS: Well, because of the issues that I promoted. Yeah, strictly the issues. They would never had had any of those issues if I hadn't been there. Nobody else introduced bills pertaining to black people or to women. BROWN: Is there, is there a conscience for the Senate now? POWERS: I would hope that my successor will be the conscience. And he's doing very well. He called me a couple days ago, and we talked at length and, about issues. And I would hope that he would be. I think he's a little nervous at first to step out. But I've told him, "We didn't send you there to be quiet. And we didn't send you there to be one of the boys." I said, "You are there for a reason, and that is to represent all these people and not be _______??." I said, "That's your job." Because he told me that he was interested in environment. I said, "that's great." I said, "but those other thirty-seven will take care of the environment, you take care of this" (laughs). Yeah, I said, you know, "I'm happy that you're concerned about the environment." BROWN: Is he as outspoken as you? POWERS: Not yet. Not yet. BROWN: But you're working on him. POWERS: Well, he's getting there (Brown laughs). Because I read a quote last week that surprised me. And he, that's the reason he called me too, because he, it was in the paper. He wanted to find out where I was. Against this Republican congressional candidate, Al Brown. His quote was that "if one closed their eyes, they wouldn't be able to tell Al Brown from Ronald Reagan." I thought that was cute, and so he wanted to find out because there are a lot of black people who are, who are Democrats who are supporting Al Brown, who is a Republican-in Jefferson County against Ron Mazzoli. And, good friend of mine called me today, this morning early, who is supporting Mazzoli and who's worried about blacks switching their allegiance from the Democratic party to Republicans to vote for Al Brown. I told him this morning, I says, "Don't even worry." I say, "it's not going anywhere. And there's not gonna be a great move to change parties and that sort of thing. Don't even worry about it." And so my successor wanted to know where I stood on this issue, on this congressional race. I told him, I said, well I said, I'll tell you this. I met a lady in the store last week, who said to me, "Do you know Al Brown?" I said "No, never met him." Well, I haven't met him purposely because some of his people have called me and knocked at the door and wanted to set an appointment with me to meet Al Brown. I said, "no appointment. I don't want to meet him. No point in my meeting him because I'm not voting for him." So this lady in the store said to me, says "Oh you know who he is." Says, "You know his mother." She went on to tell me who his mother, I said, "Lady," I said, "I really don't care who his mother is." I said, "I don't care if I do know her, I'm not voting for him." And she said, "You're not?" I said, "No. No way." And it wasn't two days later, there was an article, very derogatory article about him in the paper. I said, you have to find out who people are before you start supporting him. He's only been back here two years. He's been in California and different places, living. And said he had taken bankruptcy twice in the last twenty years. I says you have to, you know, you don't support people until you do some background work on them. Then I find out this morning that he is opposed to the national civil rights bill that's being for- BROWN: Oh really? POWERS: yeah. He went, he and two other black congressional candidates went before the National Black Caucus and told them that he was opposed to the civil rights bill. Well, it's because of the president, see. President Bush is opposed so he's talking how he's gonna veto it. He says, it's quotas, or whatever it is. But anyway, this guy told me this morning that some of the ministers here had a press conference this morning in support of Al Brown. And I said well, don't worry, he's not going anyplace (laughs), he's not going anyplace. See, they're trying to get me out here and get me involved. But you know, when you've, twenty-six years, you know, I'm ready to take a break. I'm not ready to get out there and beat the bushes anymore. I don't have the energy nor the desire. And I'm trying to write my autobiography and I'm about ninety percent finished with the first draft. I would have been finished with it if my husband hadn't been ill since May. And I haven't done anything on it since May. And so I want to finish that, and I was lying awake this morning thinking of things that I, and I've got to put them down because I'll forget them, that I want to, have to-categorize by chapters. That's, has been my problem. It's a hard thing to do. See, what I have done is just done a running story, from beginning to, you know, and now I've got to start making chapters. Gotta do that. And it came to me this morning in bed how to do it. And so I got to go back and do that. BROWN: I know you're getting tired- POWERS: I am. BROWN: I just have a couple more questions. POWERS: Okay. BROWN: I don't want you to, I don't want you to feel I'm gonna leave you exhausted. One that I really wanted to follow up on was in the University of Louisville paper, you talked for a long time about the press, and their treatment of black people in general. POWERS: Um-hm. BROWN: And you were mentioning earlier in this interview that you felt that the press was really a very important thing for you in communicating with your constituents. POWERS: Yes. BROWN: Did you feel, over time, that you were treated fairly or, and that you got enough coverage? Or, how in general did you feel the media treated you? POWERS: I think they treated me real well. I think, I know, that I got more coverage than the average legislator. And I think it was because I was a woman, it was because I was black, and they wanted my perspective on whatever the issue was. I really do. And I would not have all these clippings I have if they had not treated me fairly. But I think maybe I only had one or two negative stories. And one was an interview with a guy, who was black, and who just really distorted the whole issue. Because my husband was sitting there listening to the interview when this guy interviewed me in the hotel room in Frankfort, and when he read the article the next day he couldn't believe it. He called the guy up and threatened him. Yes he did. BROWN: What was the article about? POWERS: I don't know (laughs), I've forgotten what it's about. You know, that stuff doesn't linger with me very long. I don't even remember. It's probably one of the articles, but I don't remember the particular issue. But it was just unbelievable how he- BROWN: Do you remember how he distorted it? POWERS: Well he just told untruths (laughs). He just really did. And it was nothing that I had said. So, I don't remember what it was about. But overall, they have treated me more than fair. They have covered me on television, on radio, in the newspaper, and the proof is right over there. I've got five books this thick with nothing but newspaper articles and they're all in chronological order, and they have helped me tremendously in doing the autobiography because when I go through there, I'm reminded of things that I've done that I have forgotten about. Yeah. I kept, it looks like I kept every piece of paper. But all those years, I just kept putting clippings in corrugated boxes. And about five years ago, I started organizing them. Because I knew I was not gonna run again. I knew I was gonna do the book. So- BROWN: You know, one thing I really liked too, was that beautiful book they did a couple years ago, called- POWERS: I Dream a World. BROWN: I Dream a World. POWERS: Yes. BROWN: That was really- POWERS: Yes, um-hm, I enjoyed that too. BROWN: Did they interview you before to write that or did you write that? POWERS: They interviewed me just like you're doing, um-hm. Brian Lanker, the photographer and author, because he did the interview also. I was called by his office and asked if they could set up an interview, and of course I was curious to know how they found me in Kentucky (laughs). You know, I think this-how's anybody find somebody in Kentucky? But anyway, they had read an article in the Courier-Journal that year, and they thought that I would make an interesting subject. So they called me and set up the interview and said that he would stay here two or three days to do the pictures and interview. I told them, no that's too long. I couldn't go but we went from eleven o'clock in the day to nine o'clock at night. Taking pictures. He took two hundred and fifty pictures. In that one day I changed clothes four times and I was worn out. Yeah. To get that one picture they took on the porch- BROWN: That's a nice picture- POWERS: Uh-huh, that (laughs)-we could have just taken one. But we went to the park, we took pictures, he took park pictures in the middle of Western Parkway by the canopy trees, you know? And just took pictures everywhere. And that one that was used was the one taken on the front porch (laughs). BROWN: In that interview, I thought that was, I thought there was a funny comment that you made where you said, "I've heard someone tell someone that I'm manipulative. But I guess that's being a politician." What did you mean by that? POWERS: I'm on a board, and the first time I heard that, I didn't, I never thought of myself as being manipulative. And maybe in a way I was being manipulative in the Senate, because I had to be. I had to negotiate and, like I did about the open housing bill, but for someone to say that and to resign from the board because of my powerful influence on the board, and my presence, because I was manipulative, and I never realized that. But then when I thought about it, I said, "maybe she's right." She may be right. BROWN: What does it mean? POWERS: It means that I used certain avenues to get my way, and to get things done the way I want them done. BROWN: Can you give me an example? POWERS: Well the only example I, one that stands out in my mind most, is the open housing bill and I think you heard how I did that, in exchange for the daylight savings time bill, and that was being manipulative. And, but I didn't realize I was being that way otherwise. I knew I had to be in the Senate in order to get things done because I was in a minority and-so I thought about it and said, "well, maybe I am" (Brown laughs). You know, that's the way I am. But I, I try not to use it in a negative fashion now that I'm not in the Senate. But I remember that, and I will try not to manipulate people (both laugh) to come to my way of thinking. But this particular person resigned from the board because of me. BROWN: What board was this? POWERS: Fund for Women. That's the only organization I'm active in. BROWN: What is that fund? POWERS: Fund. F-u-n-d for Women. It's an organization to promote and help young women and women in general. It was set up as a public fund. It was set up by Maxine Brown and the money was donated by Sally Bingham. She donated a million, three hundred thousand dollars. Maxine was working for Sally in her private organization, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, when she suggested to Sally to set up this public fund because the private fund was more, more interested in scholarships for women in the arts and there were other areas that women needed assistance. So that's what this organization is about. And we have just contributed twenty-five thousand dollars to-it's not the Y any longer, but it's the former Y and I haven't gotten that new name down yet since they cut off from the national Y, but anyway, for daycare, to train people who are interested in daycare, daycare centers. It was a matching fund with the city, so they really received fifty thousand. BROWN: And you were saying earlier that you're not a joiner and that, and you just said that this is the only organization that you're active in now. Why is that? POWERS: I just never have been one who-when I was, early on, when I was in college, I was, oh, what do they call-prior to joining a sorority? Or club? BROWN: Pledging? POWERS: Pledging, yes. And I was a pledgee and I never went through the rituals of joining the sorority because I think that sort of put a damper on me in joining organizations because it was a black college and there were three major sororities on that campus, and there was racism there. All the fair complected blacks were in one sorority, all the medium browns were in another one. And the darker ones were in another one. And I didn't like that. And the one that I had pledged to, and the one who had, who had given me a scholarship, two-year scholarship, was the one for all the fair, very fair girls. And I said "unh-huh, I'm not getting into that." So I never, never did go through with it. And from then on, I've never belonged to a social club. And another thing too, I don't seem to get along as well with women as I do men. Because I know in the, when I was in the Senate, and my husband and I would go to a social function, I'd find myself always talking with the men because I was more interested in what they were talking about than what the wives were talking about. Because the wives were talking about their children, their grandchildren, their homes, this, and I was not interested in that. I mean I was pleasant to them, but I just found myself being bored with the conversation. I wanted to talk about what was going on in the world and what was going on, you know, in the state and business and that kind of thing. And my husband was talking to the wives and, and talking about the soap operas. And they were just amazed that he had, was keeping up with soap operas (laughs). Yeah, he was the only man talking to all the wives. And so I just never have been a person who joined social clubs. Never belonged to one. Never. I think I, it seems like, you know, it seems almost like a waste to me, to go to a club meeting. To sit and whatever they do, play cards or gossip or whatever they do. And they collect money to have a social function once a year and I just never was interested in that. Now, I belong, I was a member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and I was active in-helped to establish the Kentucky chapter. And I was interested in that, because that was really doing something, it's not a social club. But I don't belong to one. BROWN: Let's see, you also don't belong to any of the black, black organizations in Louisville? Like NAACP? POWERS: Yes, I've always had a membership, but I'm not active. I mean, I don't go to the meetings. I don't go to any meeting. I just, I keep a membership to the Urban League, to the NAACP, and I used to have one in Kentucky Christian Leadership Conference, which is practically out of business now. And that's it. BROWN: Is there any reason you're not more active in those organizations? POWERS: Well, I don't know why I'm not. I'm not interested I suppose, you know. Yeah, I think if I were interested, I'd be there. BROWN: (Laughs) I just, I just have one- POWERS: But if there's, you know, every time I've been involved in a movement, civil rights movement, there's been a crisis. There's always been a crisis. And I guess if there were a great crisis, I'd probably get involved, but, and then you see, I have marched and worked so long that there comes a time in your life when you like to rest a little bit, you know? I like to see the younger generation get involved. Well, they don't seem to think there's a problem (laughs), so what can you do? You know. So many of them think there's, it's always been like this. BROWN: That's why there are historians to tell you that they're not (laughs). POWERS: Yeah, that's right. That's right, you're absolutely right. That, that's exactly right. And you know, the funniest thing I-it's not really funny. I hated history. And I'm, I really have been upset with myself since I been an adult because I know how important and how invaluable history is now. Now, and I think what one of the greatest injustices in the world is that there was no, no history of black people in the history books in schools. Here I'm sixty-some years old, and when I retired, I ordered, I ordered about twenty books all about black, blacks, and authors, by blacks. Because I wanted to find out about black people. I got four of them right here: Malcolm X and Bullwhip Days and Negro in the South, Racial Violence in Kentucky, and I got about ten more in the living room there. BROWN: Have you read that one about Ida B. Wells? Where and When I Enter? POWERS: Yes, um-hm. BROWN: That's a great book. POWERS: It is. BROWN: I enjoyed that. POWERS: That is. I've got that somewhere. Oh-yeah, a friend of mine gave me that. I think it's right over there. You see it over there? Yeah, I was thinking this is Alice Walker. But it's a shame that there was nothing in the history book, history books about what black people did. Progress. BROWN: That's one thing that really has changed. POWERS: It has changed, yes. But, and it's a good thing too. Because black people need to know their history. You know I didn't know mine because I didn't have any, I never read about any black people in history. Maybe that's the reason I didn't like it. You know (laughs), it could be. BROWN: Although sometimes it's funny. I teach American history- POWERS: Yes. BROWN: and it's interesting that I find sometimes my black students don't want to know. You know, because there's so much oppression. It's like they want it to be like it's always been this way. You know? POWERS: Yes. BROWN: I find the- POWERS: They don't want to know what happened back- BROWN: I find that sometimes they are the most uncomfortable talking about slavery as anybody else. POWERS: Um-hm, um-hm. It is. BROWN: I mean, part of it could be being in such a white environment. Cause sometimes there's only three of them and- POWERS: Yes. BROWN: many other white students. POWERS: That is true too. BROWN: Yeah. But anyways, I just have one other question. Don't want to wear you out completely. POWERS: Okay. BROWN: And that is, you know in, also in both tapes you talked a little bit about feeling that things have, been regressing. You know, in that there's no conscience in the Senate and there's no, that there-that some of the same issues aren't being represented as strongly. And I was wondering if you feel any regrets or disappointments in that? And if there's anything that you wished you had done differently? POWERS: I'm sure there are many things that I could have done differently, and many things that I should have done that I didn't have the time to do or didn't think about doing. But-oh, another piece of legislation that I did enact into law was affirmative action in the state. I think there is, I know there is, a move to set, to set affirmative action back. Well, I think the Supreme Court made a ruling recently on affirmative action, and Marshall was the only one to vote, let's see, to vote against it. Thurgood Marshall, yeah. But I see some regression and-but I don't think it's gonna go too far, I really don't. I'm not worried that we're gonna be set back to the point that we're going to be riding in the back of the bus anymore, you know. I'm not worried to that point. I think that the conservative Supreme Court members, I think there are gonna be some changes made. But at the same time, I think that there are gonna be enough people of good will in congress who are gonna make some changes, who are not gonna let certain things happen. Because now, you know, there are a lot of black people scattered everywhere and, and a lot of different constituencies. So I don't think it's gonna go back too far. And I think there's gonna be, there may be a moratorium on progress, but I'm not worried that it's going back where it was. BROWN: Is it enough of a moratorium that it could cause another crisis? POWERS: I don't think so. I don't think so, unh-huh. No, there're gonna be incidents. I think there are gonna be isolated incidents, like New York, like Murray, Kent-, like Marshall County, Kentucky. Yeah. But I think overall it's not gonna be-uhn-huh. And I think there will be enough people out here to stop any move to regress too far. And they won't all be black people either, uhn-huh. There are a lot of people who are just right and for equality. BROWN: Well something has changed from, for permanent- POWERS: Yes, and I'm getting tired. BROWN: I know you are (laughs). POWERS: My throat's getting kind of rough and raw too. [End of Interview] Powers (Senate 1968-1986, 33rd district; Democratic Party), Kentucky's first African-American senator discusses her campaign strategy, incidents of discrimination growing up in Louisville, and experiences encountering race in politics. She discusses her involvement in the Civil Rights movement and sponsorship as Senator of the Open Housing bill. She concludes with her perspective on the relationship between the press and politicians. Kentucky Legislature