Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Karen Montgomery Williams, December 7, 2021

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Role of Lawrence F. Montgomery and Georgia Davis Powers in her life / Muhammad Ali

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Partial Transcript: My name is Le Datta Denise Grimes and today is December 7, 2021.

Segment Synopsis: Williams' aunt, Georgia Davis Powers, and her father, Lawrence Montgomery, taught her to have a positive attitude and a good work ethic. Powers tried to get Williams to go into politics, but she was disinterested in the give and take aspect of political discourse. Powers recruited her to work on her political campaigns, completing tasks like participating in phone banks and door-to-door campaigning. Williams and her siblings grew up next door to Muhammad Ali and he was their babysitter for several years. Williams recalls that Ali would eat bologna sandwiches and watch boxing on television when babysitting, and was a good babysitter overall. Williams also mentions that Ali's brother Rudy would also babysit her and her siblings. When Muhammad Ali became famous and visited his old neighborhood, Williams states that he would not talk about boxing.

Keywords: Cassius Clay; Family; Georgia Davis Powers; Grand Avenue (Louisville, Ky.); Lawrence Montgomery; Muhammad Ali; Phone banks; Politics; Rudy Clay; West End (Louisville, Ky.)

Subjects: African Americans; Aunts; Babysitting; Black people; Boxing; Brothers; Childhood; Early life; Fathers; Jefferson County (Ky.); Kentuckians; Kentucky; Louisville (Ky.); Parents; Political campaigns; Politicians; Powers, Georgia Davis, 1923-; Siblings; Sisters; Values; Women in politics; Work ethic

00:05:54 - Georgia Davis Powers as her aunt

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Partial Transcript: So, let's get back to your aunt. Who was she to you?

Segment Synopsis: Williams says she is similar to her Aunt Georgia in both personality and physical appearance. Williams is proud of her aunt's accomplishments as a politician, fighting for civil rights and becoming the first Black Kentucky State Senator. Williams has petitioned for her aunt to be included in a public display of prominent Louisvillians. Williams describes her aunt as loving. Helping her aunt with her political campaigns was a common occurrence during Williams' childhood. Williams fondly recalls the holiday gatherings full of family and food at her Aunt Georgia's house. Williams' aunt ran a restaurant called Senators, which served American food and had a Senator Burger as its signature dish. Georgia Davis Powers' husband concocted a recipe for the secret sauce that was placed on the burgers. Williams' father ran a laundromat next door to the restaurant, which Williams did not enjoy working at. Senators restaurant also served a special drink called Around the World, which contained a small amount of every soda served at the restaurant and featured transparent pie for dessert, a regional dish similar to chess pie.

Keywords: 28th Street (Louisville, Ky.); Black businesses; Coin laundry; Door-to-door campaigning; Family; Georgia Davis Powers; Greenwood Avenue (Louisville, Ky.); Lawrence Montgomery; Phone banks; Public accommodations; Senator burger; Senators Restaurant; West End (Louisville, Ky.)

Subjects: African Americans; Aunts; Black people; Childhood; Christmas; Christmas decorations; Civil rights; Civil rights movement; Communities; Early life; Fathers; Food; Hamburgers; Holidays; Jefferson County (Ky.); Kentuckians; Kentucky; Kentucky. General Assembly; Legislation; Louisville (Ky.); Pies; Political campaigns; Powers, Georgia Davis, 1923-; Restaurants; Scarves; Soda; Thanksgiving; Uncles; Women in politics

00:10:59 - Discussing civil rights with Georgia Davis Powers / Life and family

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Partial Transcript: Now, you were saying that, um, your Aunt Georgia shared that--her history with you all. What was she sharing with you?

Segment Synopsis: Williams' aunt, Georgia Davis Powers, wanted her to be aware of segregation, racism, and discrimination. Powers also sent Williams and her cousin to work as pages in the Kentucky General Assembly during the summer when they were children. Williams graduated from Central High School in Louisville. Williams retired from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and then worked with her father at the Hathaway & Clark Funeral Home. Williams obtained her embalmer's license and became the manager of the funeral home. Williams has two daughters, Angela, and April, who passed away in 2017, which was a difficult loss for the family. Williams has an urn necklace and a tattoo in honor of her daughter.

Keywords: Central High School (Louisville, Ky.); Embalmer's license; Funerals; Georgia Davis Powers; Hathaway & Clark Funeral Home (Louisville, Ky.); Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (Ky.); Managers; Tattoos; West End (Louisville, Ky.)

Subjects: African Americans; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Aunts; Black people; Children; Civil rights; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movement; Cousins; Cremation; Daughters; Death; Discrimination; Embalming; Frankfort (Ky.); Funeral homes; Jefferson County (Ky.); Kentucky State Capitol (Frankfort, Ky.); Kentucky. General Assembly; Louisville (Ky.); Necklaces; Powers, Georgia Davis, 1923-; Race discrimination.; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism; Retirement; Segregation; Sheriff

00:13:38 - Muhammad Ali's funeral / Muhammad Ali and visiting the West End of Louisville

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Partial Transcript: Anything else you want to share about your aunt or growing up on Grand Avenue, or?

Segment Synopsis: Williams describes the funeral procession for Muhammad Ali on Grand Avenue. There were news reporters from around the world camped out right in front of her father's house. Williams recalls the experience as beautiful and a celebration of Ali's life. Williams was saddened when she heard of Ali's passing, but she is accustomed to death from working in the funeral business. Williams finds that people like Ali who are very ill become unburdened from a longstanding period of suffering when they pass on to the afterlife. When Muhammad Ali would come visit his old neighborhood, Williams never got an opportunity to meet his children, but states that he was constantly giving back to the community, especially on behalf of neighborhood children.

Keywords: Funerals; Grand Avenue (Louisville, Ky.); Lawrence Montgomery; Muhammad Ali; News reporters; Visiting; West End (Louisville, Ky.); Will Smith

Subjects: African Americans; Black people; Boxing; Children; Communities; Dance; Death; Fathers; Funeral homes; Jefferson County (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Neighborhoods; Pallbearers; Processions; Singing

00:16:21 - Mae Street Kidd / Significance of the March on Frankfort

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Partial Transcript: Did you, um, did you know Mae Street Kidd at all?

Segment Synopsis: Williams met Mae Street Kidd through her aunt, Georgia Davis Powers, and describes her as outspoken and nice. Williams is proud of Georgia Davis Powers' role in organizing the March on Frankfort and fighting for the rights of Black people on public accommodations. Williams states that her father, Lawrence Montgomery, acted as a protector to his sister during the March and throughout their lives, since she was the only girl in the family and took such good care of her brothers in return.

Keywords: Georgia Davis Powers; Jackie Robinson; Lawrence Montgomery; Mae Street Kidd; March on Frankfort; Martin Luther King Jr.; Public accommodations

Subjects: African Americans; Aunts; Black people; Brothers; Civil rights; Civil rights movement; Fathers; Frankfort (Ky.); Kentucky. General Assembly; Kidd, Mae Street, 1904-; Powers, Georgia Davis, 1923-; Protection; Siblings; Women in politics

00:18:27 - Grandparents

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Partial Transcript: What do you remember about your grandparents?

Segment Synopsis: Williams did not realize that her paternal grandfather was white until she was thirty-two years old. Williams lived on the same block of Grand Avenue in Louisville as her grandparents and she was very close to them as a result. In terms of her grandfather's race, Williams had assumed that he was a light-skinned Black man. Williams recalls noticing that her grandfather had straight silver hair, but did not think of the possibility that he could be white. Williams' grandfather faced discrimination as a result of being in an interracial marriage. Williams' grandfather was almost fired from his job as an enameller at American Standard when other employees found out that he was married to a Black woman. His boss stepped in and informed the employees who were complaining that Williams' grandfather was the best enameller the company had and he could stay and that anyone else who complained would be fired.

Keywords: Enamellers; Family; Georgia Davis Powers; Grand Avenue (Louisville, Ky.); Lexington Herald-Leader (Newspaper); Skin color; West End (Louisville, Ky.); White people

Subjects: African Americans; African Americans--Social conditions.; American Standard, Inc; Aunts; Black people; Children; Cooking; Discrimination; Grandchildren; Grandfathers; Grandmothers; Grandparents; Hair; Interracial marriage; Jefferson County (Ky.); Kentuckians; Kentucky; Louisville (Ky.); Powers, Georgia Davis, 1923-; Prejudice; Race; Race discrimination.; Race relations--Kentucky; Racism; Uncles

00:21:40 - Awareness of segregation

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember how--if--how your life changed after that bill was passed in '66?

Segment Synopsis: Williams was not very cognizant of segregation since the West End of Louisville had many Black restaurants, movie theatres, and grocery stores right in the neighborhood. Williams explains that since most services were available to residents of the West End within the confines of their neighborhood, there was rarely the need to go out into more segregated areas of Louisville. Williams was a teenager when the civil rights movement occurred and she read about the sit-ins at lunch counters such as Woolworths in Louisville. Williams states that there were some white people living near the West End, but as white flight began to occur in the 1960s, Black people began moving into traditionally white areas, especially along the Southwest Parkway.

Keywords: Central High School (Louisville, Ky.); Chickasaw Park (Louisville, Ky.); Desegregation; Grand Avenue (Louisville, Ky.); Grocery stores; Public accommodations; Segregation in housing; Shawnee Park (Louisville, Ky.); Sit-ins (Civil rights); Southwest Parkway (Louisville, Ky.); West End (Louisville, Ky.); White flight; White people

Subjects: African Americans; African Americans--Segregation; African Americans--Social conditions.; Banks; Black people; Civil rights; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movement; Funeral homes; High schools; Housing; Jefferson County (Ky.); Kentuckians; Kentucky; Louisville (Ky.); Parks; Race discrimination.; Race relations--Kentucky; Restaurants; Schools; Segregation; Teenagers; Theaters; Woolworths

00:23:48 - Georgia Davis Powers' influence on her career

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Partial Transcript: Yeah, I was just saying that one of the role models--Aunt Georgia was a role model, but I know that she was in a position that most white males were in.

Segment Synopsis: Williams states that her Aunt Georgia's career in politics inspired Williams to go into male-dominated industries as an adult. Williams initially worked at the post office with her father until her uncle provided her with an opportunity to work at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office. Williams had trouble adjusting to her new role, especially since she did not know how to use a gun. Williams rose up in the ranks of the Sheriff's Office and eventually became a lieutenant in charge of around 150-200 employees, most of whom were men. Williams was able to earn the respect of the men by being fair and honest to them. Williams also became involved in the male-dominated funeral business, working at Hathaway & Clark with her parents when she was forty. At first, Williams worked part-time at Hathaway & Clark, but following her retirement from the Sheriff's Office in 2010, she received her embalmer's license and funeral director's license, and became more involved with the funeral home. Williams enjoys the embalming process the most, especially the quiet nature of the work.

Keywords: Embalmer's licenses; Embalming schools; Funeral business; Funeral director's license; Funerals; Georgia Davis Powers; Guns; Hathaway & Clark Funeral Home (Louisville, Ky.); Jefferson County Sheriff's Office; Lawrence Montgomery; Visitations; West End (Louisville, Ky.); White men

Subjects: African Americans; Aunts; Black people; Careers; Criminal justice; Embalming; Fairness; Fathers; Funeral homes; Jefferson County (Ky.); Leadership; Louisville (Ky.); Male domination (Social structure); Men; Parents; Policewomen; Powers, Georgia Davis, 1923-; Retirement; Role models; Sheriff; Uniforms; United States. Post Office; Women in politics