Saturday, July 25, 2009

Louisville, racism, and the civil rights movement

An article about Tracy K'Meyer's new book, "Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South"-- from the C-J's Judith Everton...

(K'Meyer, a professor of history at U of L, is a modest social acquaintance of mine; her husband Glenn used to work at IUS before U of L lured him away.)

She found that Louisville's location as a border city between the North and South was a relatively less virulent place for African Americans than cities in the Deep South, partly because Louisville blacks were not faced with Jim Crow restrictions on voting as were African Americans in more Southern cities.

There are other factors. Coalitions of black activists, liberal whites and religious organizations have traditionally worked together for racial equality in public accommodations, employment and housing. Also, Louisville's geographical location ensured that the city would maintain commercial ties to the North.

Compared to Birmingham, Ala., and other Southern cities, Louisville's buses were not officially segregated, and reaction by police to sit-ins and protests was less brutal....

That doesn't mean racism did not exist, K'Meyer said. Physical attacks by whites against blacks, including the firebombing of a black family's home in 1954 and other acts of racial hatred occurred. But more often, bigotry was more subtle and segregation more ambiguous, said the historian....

K'Meyer's research reveals that Louisville's civil-rights movement involved a series of peaks and valleys. Tipping points for change occurred with the sit-ins in the early 1960s, demonstrations for open housing and the school-busing crisis of the 1970s....

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