FRANKFORT – Three longtime members of the Kentucky General Assembly were honored for their years of service and dedication to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and its citizens at the 15th annual Black History Month Celebration in the Capitol Rotunda. Dr. M. Christopher Brown II, president of Kentucky State University, was the keynote speaker.
Senator Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, presented the 2018 Legacy Achievement Award to state Representatives Rep. Darryl Owens, D- Louisville, Arnold Simpson, D- Covington, and former state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw of Lexington at the event sponsored by Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus.
“These three men have made great contributions to Kentucky as legislators and as representatives of the black community,” said Senator Gerald Neal, D-Louisville. “Their commitment to equality, community, and civil rights is illustrated through years of public service.”
Rep. Owens represents House District 43, which covers a portion of Jefferson County. He earned his degree from Central State University in Ohio, and a law degree from Howard University of Law. He has served as past president of the Louisville Legal Aid Society, president of the Louisville Branch of the NAACP, and first vice president of the Louisville Urban League. He was voted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame and named a 2005 Outstanding Policy Maker in Kentucky. In 1983, Rep. Owens was elected as a commissioner of the Jefferson County Fiscal Court, the first and only African American to serve in this capacity. He is a member of the Louisville and Kentucky Bar Associations and has served as a Kentucky assistant attorney general, assistant county attorney and a juvenile court judge. He has been a member of the Kentucky General Assembly since 2005.
Rep. Simpson represents House District 65, which covers a portion of Kenton County. He is a graduate of Kentucky State University and the University Of Kentucky College Of Law. Rep. Simpson is an attorney and a member of the American, Kentucky, and Northern Kentucky bar associations. Prior to being elected to the legislature, he was the first African American to become city manager of Covington, where he served for three years. Since entering the state legislature, he has continued to remain active in the northern Kentucky community, serving on the Covington Civil Service Commission, and Northern Kentucky Arts Council. Rep. Simpson has been a member of the Kentucky General Assembly since 1994.
Rep. Crenshaw, a former Democratic member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, represented District 77 in Fayette County. A native of Glasgow, he was born and raised on a farm in Metcalfe County where he lived through the times of segregation. He received his BA from Kentucky State University and JD from the University Of Kentucky College Of Law. Upon graduation, he went to work for the state labor department, taught criminal justice at Kentucky State University, and serve as the first black assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern Judicial District of Kentucky. He began working in various campaigns and joined the local NAACP chapter in 1979. When Rep. Crenshaw won election to the legislature in 1993, he was the first African American from Fayette County to be elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives. As a state legislator, he made a name for himself as chair of the House Budget Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary. He was a member of the Kentucky General Assembly from 1993-2015.
Dr. Brown, president of Kentucky State University, was the keynote speaker. This year’s event focused on the “Onward and Upward,” which is the University’s motto. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in higher education from The Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in education from the University of Kentucky, and a B.S. in elementary education from South Carolina University. He is the former executive vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost at Southern University and A&M System. He served as president and institutional officer at Alcorn State University and in other executive and academic roles at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Alcorn State University, Fisk University, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and the United Negro College Fund.
“The theme focused attention to black history, the current status, and the challenges going forward that will not only impact the education of all Kentuckians, but that will certainly affect the African American community,” said Senator Neal. “It also draws attention to the often forgotten history—and the need to preserve the many deeds of African Americans.”
Recognizing the contributions and accomplishments of African Americans throughout history was also an emphasis of the statewide event.
“America’s 241-year endeavor to form a more perfect Union has never been easy, but it is vitally integral to who we are as a nation,” said Gov. Bevin. “We owe a profound debt of gratitude to the bold individuals of color throughout history who have challenged us to live up to our sacred credo—that all of us are created equal. Because of these intrepid trailblazers, the American Dream is more available today than ever before to all those who choose to pursue it.”
Along with Senator Neal, the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus is composed of Senator Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, and Representatives George Brown Jr., D-Lexington; Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort; Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville; Darryl Owens, D-Louisville; Attica Scott, D-Louisville, and Arnold Simpson, D-Covington.
Other members of the Black Caucus joined Sen. Neal in participating in the Black History Month celebration. Rep. Meeks gave the welcome, Representatives Brown and Graham led the Legislative Roll Call, Senator Thomas introduced Dr. Brown, and Rep. Scott gave the closing remarks.
Other Participants in BHM Program
The social and environmental justice music group, Mighty Shades of Ebony, will perform this year’s musical number. The ensemble is comprised of Jefferson County students Arielle Rasheed, Sam Elder, Jordan Hardison, Jaden Hardison, Kamyah Rasheed, and Christopher Rasheed.
Presenting this year’s moment in history was Dr. Chrystal A. deGregory, director of the Atwood Institute for Race, Education, and the Democratic Ideal at Kentucky State University, where she serves as an associate professor of history. She is also the founder of the HBCUstory, an advocacy initiative preserving, presenting, and promoting inspiring stories of HBCUs past and present, for their future.
Reverend Richard Gaines, pastor of Consolidated Baptist Church in Lexington, led the invocation and benediction. Governor Matt Bevin, Senate President Robert Stivers, House Democratic Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, and House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne delivered greetings.
Origin of Black History Month
Black History Month dates to 1926, when Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the son of former slaves who worked in a Kentucky coal mine as a child, proposed and then launched a weeklong celebration of individuals and occasions having a significant impact on African-American history in America. In 1976, the celebration was extended to the entire month of February. From the initial event, the primary emphasis has been on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation’s public schools.
“This is not just a celebration of African American history,” Senator Neal explained. “This is a celebration of American history. Black History Month presents us an opportunity to remember the important legacy of African Americans in Kentucky and the nation – much of which would have been lost over the years if not for this special time of remembrance. It is important that we know and honor many of the notable citizens who have contributed to our history as well as pay respect to the many, many others whom history has forgotten. I encourage all Kentuckians to join me as we observe Black History Month.”