Segregation in Louisville

As a border city in a border state, Louisville was both southern and not southern in its racial norms. African Americans retained voting rights and Jim Crow segregation laws were less systematic than in cities farther south. Yet a "polite racism" ensured many public facilities and neighborhoods remained segregated. Chickasaw Park, for example, was the only park African Americans could enjoy until parks desegregated in 1955. From the 1904 passage of the statewide Day Law requiring it, all schools from kindergarten through post-secondary were strictly segregated until mid-century.

By the 1950s, the city’s population was 15% African American. Many white business owners would not serve blacks, but thriving African American residential and commercial districts had developed in downtown neighborhoods, especially on the Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Blvd) corridor. The all-black Central High School was outstanding academically and athletically.

Desegregation activism came earlier in Louisville than farther south, as postwar black reporters requested service at all-white restaurants. Some of the Bradens’ earliest organizing in1950-51 brought about desegregation of Kentucky hospitals.

Following the Greensboro, NC, sit-ins of 1960, Louisville activists organized boycotts of businesses refusing to serve blacks, along with youth-led demonstrations downtown and at the all-white Fontaine Ferry amusement park. Prolonged protests yielded an open accommodation law in 1963, the first in the South.

Later in the sixties, the housing segregation that the Wades had challenged mostly alone became the thrust of one of the nation's most militant open housing movements, and in 1967 Louisville became the first major city south of the Mason Dixon to pass an open housing law.







Blueboar demonstration

Additional Sources

 Fair Housing Oral history

Nearly half of Louisville lives in “extreme segregation” by Jere Downs
Fontaine Ferry Amusement Park (photo credit Courier-Journal)
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