This is the final profile in a series marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky’s founding. Weekly since November 2014, we have shared the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization’s rich history.
The National ACLU was founded in 1920 – at a time when freedom of expression and the right to equal protection of the laws, despite their presence in the Constitution, had yet to be recognized by American Courts.
Those opposed to U.S. involvement in the First World War were jailed for the mere expression of their views. Labor unions were denied the right to organize. Jim Crow was the law of the land and state-sanctioned violence against African Americans was routine. Gender discrimination was firmly institutionalized. Constitutional rights for people with disabilities, lesbians and gay men, the poor, and many other groups were literally unthinkable.
The ACLU, as the first public interest law firm of its kind, set to work breathing life into the Bill of Rights. Since then, it has grown into a national organization with unsurpassed expertise in defending civil liberties, both in and out of the courtroom. Many of the fundamental rights that Americans take for granted today were the direct result of litigation and advocacy on the part of the ACLU.
In 1955, the Kentucky chapter of the ACLU was founded by a group of dedicated women and men who saw an alarming crisis in our nation and state. McCarthyism, anti-Communist hysteria and opposition to the growing civil rights movement posed new and serious threats to the constitutional rights of Kentuckians. The first cases brought by the KCLU (as it was then known) defended the free speech rights of civil rights activists and anti-war protestors.
The charges of sedition against Louisville activists Carl and Anne Braden for purchasing a home on behalf of African Americans (the Wade Family) were the spark that spurred the KCLU founders to action. The KCLU represented Carl Braden on the appeal of his conviction, eventually securing a reversal after SCOTUS declared all state sedition laws unconstitutional. Since the early days, our organization has grown from a group of volunteers to a staff of 22. Our work has expanded outside of the courtroom to include advocacy at the capitol, and education and organizing in communities across the state. What remains the same is our steadfast commitment to defend the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people by the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Since its founding the ACLU of Kentucky has been, and continues to be:
- A primate mover in all Kentucky's school desegregation efforts and an outspoken proponent of affirmative action;
- Kentucky’s only constant advocate for the separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and the right to privacy;
- A strong supporter of equal rights for all Kentuckians regardless of race, gender, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or disability;
- The primary legal resource for Kentucky’s abortion rights movement;
- A staunch defender of the rights of individuals caught up in Kentucky’s criminal justice system;
- A steadfast advocate for abolition of the state’s death penalty;
- A supporter of equal marriage rights for Kentucky’s same-gender couples;
- A partner with Kentucky’s labor community in defending civil liberties in the workplace.
60 Years of Civil Liberties
Throughout 2015 we explored the history of our organization through the 60 Faces of Liberty project. Each week we shared a profile of a client, board or staff member, coalition partner, or case that tells part of this organization’s rich history. The profiles were shared here on our website, and also on our social media platforms on Facebook and Twitter.