For the first time in about two decades, Paducah will be the host city for the state's annual NAACP Conference.

And, J.W. Cleary, longtime president of the Paducah NAACP branch, along with the local membership approaching 200, is looking forward to the opportunity Sept. 13-15.

"It's been here before," Cleary said. "I remember years ago, Benjamin Hooks (former executive director of the nation's oldest civil rights organization) was the guest speaker at the old Executive Inn. In fact, it's been held here two or three times, but we just haven't had it in the last 20 years or so."

Cleary remembers conference delegates always enjoying coming to Paducah.

"There's just something about Paducah," he said. "They enjoy the hospitality. We always try to be friendly, you know in a lot of bigger cities people don't even speak to you."

According to Raoul Cunningham, state NAACP conference president, Paducah made a successful bid to host the 2019 event at last year's conference.

While Louisville is the state's largest branch, "Paducah is our second-largest branch," Cunningham said. "They're quite active."

Cunningham expects between 100-150 delegates will attend this year's conference, which runs Friday through Sunday. The business sessions will be held at the Robert Cherry Civic Center. A free gospel concert will be held on Paducah's riverfront Friday night which is open to the public.

Delegates will elect officers, pass resolutions, and participate in a planned forum which political candidates for several statewide races, including governor, have been invited to, according to Cunningham.

The state conference president noted the NAACP "cannot and does not" endorse specific candidates but can address issues like voter turnout.

"We're expecting a quite progressive convention," said Cunningham, who also serves on the national board of directors. "Kentucky is one of three states holding statewide elections this year (along with Louisiana and Mississippi). The NAACP has always done voter registration to get out the vote.

"But we want to increase African American participation in statewide elections, and we'll be introducing to our unit some new techniques (to do that)."

According to Cleary, the entire community has been very supportive of the effort to bring the state convention to Paducah.

CSI is sponsoring the banquet Friday night and Rafferty's the luncheon on Saturday, he said.

"In other words, it's kind of like the business sector and the community itself is looking forward to this thing and proud that it's going to be in Paducah," Cleary said. "It's really a positive reflection on our city."

Delegates won't be the only visitors to the area during the convention.

"A lot of them (delegates) will bring family members and stuff like that," he said. "And, because it's the same week as the fall quilt show, we had a little trouble getting hotels. But I've got to give a big shout out to the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau ... they have really supported us in trying to make everything happen."

The support he has received, Cleary said, has been overwhelming.

"It seemed like every door I went and knocked on (seeking support), I just didn't get many 'no's.' Everybody said, 'We want our city to shine, too.'

"That's what it's all about ... it really is."

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