A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Encouraging Fairness: From courts to the arts, civil rights Hall of Famers teach equality

Editor’s Note: The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights inducted 23 Kentuckians into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2014. This is the second in a series of stories highlighting those inductees.
Kentucky’s Commission on Human Rights has been in existence since 1960 and was created “to encourage fair treatment, foster mutual understanding and respect, and discourage discrimination against any racial or ethnic group or its members.” The state agency enforces the Kentucky Civil Rights Act; receives, investigates, mediates and/or conciliates complaints of discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame was established in 2000 to recognize “these brave men and women who have been leaders in the struggle for equality and justice in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” Individuals have been inducted into the Hall of Fame biennially since then with a total of 118 Kentuckians listed as “true advocates of justice.”

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   Merlene Davis (Photo from KCHR)

Merlene Davis

Merlene Davis has spent more than 25 years as a journalist and columnist for The Lexington Herald-Leader, and is one of a few female African American columnists at a major daily in the country. She works to use her column “to fight for the rights of the homeless, immigrants, domestic violence victims, gays, African Americans and others who have faced discrimination,” according to the KCHR.
Davis considers herself “a champion of causes” ranging from education to fair housing to employment, and is working towards Kentucky allowing former felons to have the right to vote. Some of her column topics have included black men bullied as youth and later becoming motivational speakers, struggling young mothers who are helped to go back to school and complete their education, and the struggles of people with disabilities to make their way in society. She writes of the need “to welcome everyone, regardless of their race, color, gender, national origin or sexual orientation.”

Chester Grundy (Photo from KCHR)

Chester Grundy

Chester Grundy has worked for civil rights and the use of the humanities to “advance humanity” since the 1960s. For most of that time, he’s been affiliated with the University of Kentucky, where he became director of the office of Minority Affairs. Grundy is a civil rights leader, college administrator, educator, jazz enthusiast and arts patron. As a leader of the Black Student Union at UK, he lobbied for there to be more Black History courses, more diversity in staff and administration, and for UK to be more welcoming for all students of color.
While at UK, he established the Martin Luther King Cultural Center for entertainers, writers, actors, actresses and singers to share their stories. Such names as Muhammad Ali, Coretta Scott King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, Spike Lee, Alex Haey, Nikki Giovanni, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and the Boys Choir of Harlem have all appeared at UK through Grundy’s efforts.

   Ed Hamilton

Ed Hamilton

Ed Hamilton is a renowned sculptor whose work with African American themes are found across the country. These works done by the Louisville resident include the Joe Louis statue in Detroit, the Booker T. Washington statue at Hampton University in Virginia, the York statue in Louisville, and work saluting the African American Civil War soldiers on display in Washington, D.C.
In nominating Hamilton, Steve Crump of WBTV in Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote, “The talent of his creations provides voice to the voiceless. It also provides a sense of hope. The projects that come from his soul continue to inspire. It’s not just the individuals he has brought to life; he has a talent of showcasing many of the stories that played a role in our nation’s struggle for equality.”

Pete Karem (Photo from KCHR)

Pete Karem

Edmond P. “Pete” Karem is a retired judge from the Kentucky Court of Appeals and the Jefferson Circuit Court in Louisville, his home. Karem also served nine years, seven as chair, on the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
A 1968 graduate of the University of Louisville Law School, he is known for donating countless hours to organizations and agencies including the Kentucky Youth Advocates, the Louisville Bar Association, Spalding University Board of Overseers and the Center for Educational Leadership.
Karem started his career as a teacher at Bishop David High School in Louisville. He has retained his role of mentoring youth as a hearing officer for the Kentucky High School Athletic Association where he hears appeals on eligibility.

   Shelby Lanier Jr. (Photo from KCHR)

Shelby Lanier Jr.

Shelby Lanier Jr. is a detective with the Louisville Metro Police Department who has taken the oath “to serve and protect” as a way of life, according to the KCHR. He has helped solve murders and robberies, and both walked the beat and ridden motorcycles.

During his off-duty hours, he has done much to advance civil rights by building relationships between the community and the police, and between police officers and their command. He has worked in to jail to counsel inmates and increase equality. He organized the Black Police Officers Organization in 1971 and served as its first president.
In 1990, he co-founded the National Black Police Association and became its chairman. Lanier “believed that his department just treat the blacks within its ranks fairly before it could seek trust from the community,” according to the KCHR.

Linda McCray (Photo from KCHR)

Linda McCray

Linda McCray, of Bowling Green, is known for “staring down members of the Ku Klux Klan, honoring women whose civil rights achievements were overlooked by history, teaching young girls to believe in themselves, fighting for safe and affordable housing for people with disabilities or bringing police and young men of color together in a peace forum,” according to the KCHR.

McCray is the former long-time executive director of the Bowling Green Human Rights Commission. During her 11-year tenure, the commission went from a small rented space with one staff member to purchasing its own building with numerous staff fighting for fair housing, employment, public accommodations and financial transactions. In 1999, she became a charter member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Planning Committee which organizes annual forums and educational programs.
Among her various projects, McCray worked with the KCHR to organize a forum for police and young men to build bridges, and housing fairs to help low-income people buy homes.
All photos are from the KCHR.

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