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'We've Still Got Work To Do, But There's Hope': Lexington Urban League Turns 50

UK Special Collections / Josh James
Lexington's Urban League headquarters in 1925 alongside a current image of the building on 148 DeWeese Street on May 17, 2018. The second is the

Lexington’s Urban League recognized its 50th anniversary Thursday.

Standing behind a podium in front of the league’s long-time home at 148 DeWeese Street, it didn’t take long for P.G. Peeples – a community fixture now synonymous with the civil rights organization – to discover himself at a loss for words.

Credit Josh James / WUKY
Lexington Urban League President P.G. Peeples holds the original charter certifying the local chapter as an official part of the movement on May 17, 2018.

"50 years ago today..." he began, growing choked up as the crowd applauded. "The National Urban League board went in session in Indianapolis and certified us as the 90th Urban League to join the movement."

The group president said those few moments of silence were spent thinking about the pioneers who scraped together $25,000 to start the league in Ocober of 1968 and the countless contributors who have kept it humming for five decades.

"There's so many of them that were not here today, thus my personal emotions," he explained.

The original certificate of affiliation christened the lcoal chapter as “a community service agency designed to secure equal opportunity for negroes and other disadvantaged citizens.” Since, the group has helped tens of thousands of students attend school, provided job training for ex-inmates, and spent over $26 million on affordable housing programs.

Veteran J.D. Parker is one of their success stories.

"I work full time now. My wife works full time now. That wasn't the case last year," he told the audience at the ceremony. "And we are on the path to home ownership. It is within reach."

And although much has changed in the organization’s five decades serving Lexington, Peeples says many issues remain the same, from workforce challenges to racial tensions.

"What that says is that we've still got work to do, but there's hope. There's hope," he says.

Going forward, Peeples singles out gentrification as a topic that deserves a spot on the front burner.

"Our community can grow," he counsels, "but it must grow together."

The anniversary event was attended by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, Urban County Council members including mayoral candidate Kevin Stinnett, and other city leaders.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.