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Lexington civil rights activist Robert Jefferson dies at 90

People, mostly Black, hold up signs demanding school integration in Fayette County. It's a black and white photo from decades ago.
University of Kentucky
Robert Jefferson, well-known civil rights leader, led the fight to integrate Fayette County Schools in the 1970s.

Lexington civil rights activist Robert Jefferson, known as a trailblazer and mentor to many in the Black community, died last Friday at the age of 90.

Jefferson was among a group of parents who sued Fayette County Public Schools in 1971. He argued the district maintained a segregated school system at the elementary and middle school levels by “design or neglect.”

The case led to widespread protests, and eventually brought about a change. A judge sided with parents and required the school system to further desegregate.

Jefferson joined the Urban League of Lexington-Fayette County, which aimed to improve and advance the conditions of the Black community, and became its treasurer and president.

He later served on the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council for 13 years. In 1999, he voted to approve the city’s Fairness Ordinance, which would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Jefferson earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Kentucky State University and served in the U.S. Air Force.

He was also an outspoken critic of the University of Kentucky Office for Institutional Diversity, and the racism black students and athletes faced during the 1960s. He advocated to increase minority scholarships to bridge barriers that included low retention rates.

Jefferson’s visitation will be Dec. 27 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Unity Worship Center. The funeral service is scheduled for Dec. 28 at 10:30 a.m. also at the Unity Worship Center.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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