Western Kentucky Loses Civil Rights Trailblazer
Paducah has lost a formative civil rights activist and its first black City Commissioner. Reverend Wardelle G. Harvey died the Tuesday evening at the age of 88.
Harvey is credited with leading the charge of integrating Paducah. According to an interview for the Civil Rights in Kentucky Oral History Project around 1963, Harvey formed and served as president of the Non-Partisan League that he said, “probably did most of the integrating and opening doors that were closed here in Paducah.”
Harvey said he formed the league because the NAACP wasn't very effective at the time and he thought the area needed something new. The Non-Partisan League was around for about six years and nearly all of Paducah was integrated by its end.
Harvey attended Tri-State Baptist College, where he earned a Bachelor of Theology, and first got involved in political and civic work in Evansville Indiana, mentioning segregation at the bus station and swimming pools in the interview.
He moved to Paducah in 1962 to pastor the Harrison Street Baptist Church, where he served until 1986.
In 1968, Harvey narrowly lost his first campaign for City Commission, but was soon appointed to the commission when former opponent, Commissioner Bill Fellows fell ill and died. He served three, two-year terms in the early 1970s. Harvey also served as Mayor Pro Tempore.
Shortly after leaving office Harvey was back in his civil rights activism roll when, in 1975, he sat called attention to an allegedly illegal Klu Klux Klan meeting. The KKK violated a permit to host an open meeting by denying admittance to blacks. Harvey attended the meeting with Preston Kennedy then editor of the Paducah Sun. He attended the meeting to make it public knowledge that the city had not revoked the Klan’s permit after they violated the terms.
Harvey inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2000.
Current Paducah City Commissioner Richard Abraham remembers Harvey's passion and activism.
“He was a trailblazer.... He changed the way a lot of people felt about African Americans here in the City of Paducah.... One thing really, really touched off on me is, is the fact that if you’re going to live in the city then you need to make sure your involved.... Whatever it is you feel that you can do to enhance the city you live in, you should do that. And his life reflected that.”
The service for Harvey will be Monday, July 14 at the New Greater Love Missionary Baptist Church in Paducah. Visitation starts at 3 until the service begins at 7 p.m. The burial will be Tuesday the 15th at 10 a.m. at Oak Grove Cemetery.