FRANKFORT — This time the welcome was warmer; still cold, but the sun shone; and 50 years of progress was marked.
It was different, cold and rainy, and the welcome by the white establishment just as chilly 50 years ago when 10,000 marched on the state Capitol seeking passage of a public accommodations law.
Many who were there 50 years ago weren’t Wednesday – but some were and they came to remember, to celebrate the progress of civil rights, but also to advocate for passage of another measure, this one to restore automatically the voting rights of felons who’ve completed their sentences.
Roughly 4,000 converged on the Capitol to commemorate the march 50 years ago led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Jackie Robinson. When King spoke, a cold sleet fell and someone stood holding an umbrella over him.
Then Gov. Ned Breathitt wasn’t among them, staying in his office where after the march, King, Abernathy, Robinson and others asked him to push passage of the public accommodations legislation.
The bill, sponsored by Norbert Blume, Arthur Johnson and J.E. Smith never got out of committee that year. But two years later, the bill passed with Gov. Breathitt’s backing and Kentucky became the first southern state to pass civil rights legislation.
Karen A. Coleman of Louisville was there Wednesday, singing “Lift Every Voice” with others in the crowd, holding a copy of The Courier-Journal with a photo from 50 years ago. There she was, the 8-year-old little girl huddling against the cold by hugging her aunt, Evelyn Evans.
Raoul Cunningham, President of the Kentucky NAACP, and master of ceremonies Wednesday, was there the last time. Wednesday, he thanked Frankfort Mayor Bill May for the help the city provided with planning the event.
“Frankfort has done everything and Mayor May has done everything to make us welcome,” Cunningham told the crowd. “What a difference 50 years make.”