Kentucky Court of Justice
Justice Venters speaks on celebrating black history, Justice Harlan during Black History Month event
FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A generation of adults today is our hope for a time when we can truly celebrate black history, Justice Daniel J. Venters of the Supreme Court of Kentucky told an audience of 150 people at a public Black History Month event Thursday, Feb. 19, in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort.
“Our nation has finally raised a generation of children, now grown into adults, who have no memory of segregated schools and restaurants and bathrooms, who have no memory of murder of citizens whose only offense was the desire to vote and live free and to help others do the same,” Justice Venters said. “We have a generation of adult Americans who do not remember the shame heaped upon a mixed-race child, but instead know that their president is a biracial American born of a black African man and a white American woman. It is a generation that did not see black children in Little Rock, Arkansas, able to enter a school only because soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, stood guard over them with rifles loaded and bayonets fixed. Instead, they have seen black children enter the White House as its lawful residents amid barely a whisper of political discontent. In that generation lies our hope for the history that we will one day be able to celebrate.”
Justice Venters was among the guest speakers at the Black History Month program sponsored by the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus. He received a standing ovation during his speech.
“Rather than black history, we find it easier to celebrate the great contributions of the African-Americans to our national culture,” he said. “We celebrate the rich African-American influence in our language and literature, our fashion and arts, athletic achievements and scientific endeavors. But the fact remains that historically, much of that contribution was born of the oppressive conditions which brought the African to this continent and kept him here in chains – first the visible chains of iron, then the invisible chains of segregation. Soul food is, after all, derived from the poor food and scraps left for the slaves. And the blues is, after all, the blues.”
Justice Venters represents the 3rd Supreme Court District, which is comprised of Adair, Bell, Casey, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Estill, Garrard, Green, Jackson, Knox, Laurel, Lee, Leslie, Lincoln, Marion, McCreary, Metcalfe, Monroe, Nelson, Pulaski, Rockcastle, Russell, Taylor, Washington, Wayne and Whitley counties.
The justice also discussed how the Kentucky Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court responded after slavery was abolished and the 14th Amendment was adopted. After the Civil War, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner who fought for the Union in the 10th Kentucky Infantry, was the lone dissenter in many civil rights cases. He urged the court and the nation to keep the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Equal Rights Amendment for which so many Americans, white and black, had fought and died, Justice Venters said.
“His most scathing and prescient dissent came in the 1896 infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson, when the Supreme Court enshrined in law the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine that would for decades provide legal cover for the most offensive mistreatment of human beings since slavery itself,” Justice Venters said. “Harlan wrote ‘But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.’ ”
The late Curlee Brown Sr. of Paducah and Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton were honored during the Black History Month program.
The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights announced that Brown was chosen as the 45th member of the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians, an educational poster and bookmark series produced by the commission. Brown was the first president of the Paducah-McCracken County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He worked to end segregation and discrimination, including at the former Paducah Junior College and public schools.
The Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus honored Hamilton, a native Kentuckian and world-renowned artist. Hamilton’s work includes the “Spirit of Freedom” in Washington, which was the first national memorial to honor black soldiers and their white officers who fought during the Civil War. He also sculpted a statue of President Abraham Lincoln that will be unveiled in June at Waterfront Park in Louisville.
Speakers at the Black History Month event included Gov. Steve Beshear; Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo of the House of Representatives; Sen. Johnny Ray Turner; John Johnson, executive director of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights and former president of the Kentucky branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and some members of the Kentucky Black Legislative Caucus – Sen.Gerald Neal and Reps. Jesse Crenshaw, Jim Glenn, Reginald Meeks, Darryl Owens and Arnold Simpson.
The Administrative Office of the Courts in Frankfort supports the activities of 4,000 Kentucky Court of Justice employees, including the elected offices of justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the state court system, the AOC prepares a biennial budget draft and executes the Judicial Branch budget.