UK Professor reflects on Martin Luther King Jr.’s visits to Kentucky

Martin Luther King Jr. speaks on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in 1964.  Photo...
Martin Luther King Jr. speaks on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol in 1964. Photo courtesy of UK Libraries.(UK Libraries)
Published: Jan. 15, 2022 at 11:10 AM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Martin Luther King Jr. travelled millions of miles calling for equality and leading demonstrations, including stops in the Commonwealth.

Dr. George C. Wright, senior adviser to University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto and distinguished university research professor said, from the sidelines he witnessed King make history.

“Martin Luther King, whose brother was a minister of a church in Louisville during these years, came to Kentucky on a number of occasions,” he said.

Dr. Wright said during and after the March on Washington, the same debates over discrimination in stores, restaurants and other businesses were taking place in the Commonwealth. He said several ministers came together to form the “Nothing New for Easter” campaign where Black people would stop patronizing stores around the holiday, a time when many would spend money on new clothing and food, in an attempt to stop discriminatory policies.

“I can remember just as a child being in downtown Lexington...that there were Black people out in front of department stores and other places and saying to people, ‘We’ve taken a vow as a group that we’re not go into these type of places at this time,’” Dr. Wright said.

He said King drew large crowds during his visits to the Bluegrass State.

“In the early 1960′s, that’s when a lot of civil rights demonstrations were occurring in Louisville, Lexington and Frankfort to desegregate, to give Black people the right to access the downtown areas,” he said.

Though we celebrate the life of the leader on or near his birthday on Jan. 15, Dr. Wright said a lot of change came following his death on April 4, 1968. He said it’s what allowed him to go to college.

“His death led to the University of Kentucky and other universities....started a program that summer in honor of Martin Luther King, and their program said that for those Blacks who had recently graduated...that if you came to the University of Kentucky for two months and took simulated college classes, they would give you a MLK scholarship for one semester,” Dr. Wright said. “I couldn’t believe that. I came out here...I met my wife there. "

Today, Dr. Wright said he recognizes MLK day by participating in marches.

“It’s a time for me to think back on the impact of his life and on my life, the society and the world,” he said.

He asks himself, “What would King think about our world today?”

“I think King would say, ‘Things have changed and all the more we have to keep pressing for other changes,’” Dr. Wright said.

Dr. Wright wrote a book about the civil rights movement in Kentucky that includes the influence of Martin Luther King Jr. It’s titled, “A History of Blacks in Kentucky: In Pursuit of Equality, 1890-1980.”

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