With conversations about race permeating nearly every facet of civic dialogue from the elections to the art community, Black History Month has taken on a heightened sense of relevance this year. On Wednesday in the Capitol Rotunda, political leaders, activists, and community members gathered to commemorate the long, winding, and sometimes bumpy road that marks African American life in the commonwealth.
The theme of the celebration presented by the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus was “Unfinished Business of Kentucky: ‘Symbolism and Reality.’”
The symbolism was focused on the Jefferson Davis statue in the rotunda. Carolyn DuPont, an associate professor of history at Eastern Kentucky University, led a call by historians from colleges around the state to remove the likeness of the Confederate president. She presented Gov. Matt Bevin with a copy of their letter explaining their request.
Gov. Bevin employed his own use of symbolism. Known for ad libbing his speeches, the governor took inspiration for his remarks from a piece of cloth draped on the podium.
This year’s Living Legacy Award was presented to historians Gerald Smith of the University of Kentucky, Karen Cotton McDaniel of Kentucky State University, and John A. Hardin of Western Kentucky University for their work as editors of “The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia.” The 684-page volume is considered a major step in preserving the history and accomplishments of African Americans in the state. Smith was the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s ceremony.
Sen. Gerald Neal (D-Louisville) brought a dose of contemporary reality to the proceedings. He said a celebration in the auspicious surroundings of the state capitol doesn’t mean that racism is thing of the past.
Miss Kentucky Clark Janell Davis joined the KSU Concert Choir to entertain the crowd gathered in the rotunda.
Sen. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) recognized Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton, who is the first African American to be elected to statewide office in the commonwealth.
Rev. Linda Brown of the Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lexington brought the celebration to a powerful conclusion by asking everyone gathered in the rotunda hold hands and pray together.
Follow @ReneeKET on Twitter for updates throughout the day, and for a recap of the full day’s activities, watch Legislative Update, weeknights at 11 on KET. You can also follow the Kentucky General Assembly on KET’s Legislative Coverage app for your smartphone or tablet.