Louisville history of racial oppression and activism revealed in new online resource

By Rebecca Pattillo

University of Louisville’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC) has published a new resource, Uncovering Racial Logics: Louisville’s History of Racial Oppression and Activism, a website that provides access to documents, oral histories, photographs and other materials that tell the story of Louisville’s history of racial oppression and activism.

The site is focused on education, policing and housing, “areas in which we see institutional racism at work, producing unequal access to resources, freedoms, and opportunities as part of ongoing U.S. racial stratification,” according to the site’s introduction. Funded by the Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research (CCTSJR) and the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, the collaborative project was created by faculty members across multiple departments for an interdisciplinary look at the “racial logics” of Louisville via primary source materials housed in ASC.

A group of Black and white women standing in front of a bus, 21 July 1966. Source: R_18909, Royal Photo Company Collection, 1982.03, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.
A group of Black and white women standing in front of a bus, 21 July 1966. Source: R_18909, Royal Photo Company Collection, 1982.03, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

Dr. Carrie Mott, UofL Assistant Professor of Geographic and Environmental Sciences and one of the site’s creators, said the goal of the project was to provide access to useful information to anyone interested in learning about Louisville’s history around racial justice.

“We also wanted to provide a tool that would help people see the amazing archival resources housed at ASC,” said Mott.  “From prior research and teaching with archives at UofL, I knew of the wealth of resources we have here at UofL. But we recognized many people on campus as well as in the larger Louisville community do not understand how to use archival resources, why they might be useful, or know how to access them. The website was an opportunity to provide some resources in terms of actual scanned documents, but also to help people learn that UofL has a lot more where that came from for research on Louisville’s racial history.”

Rebecca Pattillo, ASC Metadata Librarian and site co-creator, said “Working on this project allowed ASC to make some of our materials available digitally. The site also directs visitors to our robust online digital collections, where they can explore some of the materials referenced in greater depth.”

“One misconception about the archives is that they are only available to UofL affiliated people, when actually we are open to anyone in the community,” said Pattillo.

The site features scanned archival documents including pamphlets, newspaper clippings, oral histories, correspondence, and photographs, with contextual and historical information about each document and the larger collection to which it belongs. In addition to scanned documents, the site also highlights oral histories, story maps, and other resources addressing Louisville’s racial history. 

"Office of Black Affairs bulletin 1969-1970", Reference file: Office of Black Affairs, Archives and Special Collections
“Office of Black Affairs bulletin 1969-1970,” Reference file: Office of Black Affairs, Archives and Special Collections

Site users may explore the topic of both secondary and higher education in Louisville to learn about the push for equal pay among Black and white teachers in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the city’s move to desegregate schools via court-ordered busing in the mid-1970s, integration of the University of Louisville in the 1950s, and the founding of the Black Student Union and the Department of Black Affairs in the late 1960s. In addition, learn about Simmons University, one of Kentucky’s two HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), and Louisville Municipal College, the only Black liberal arts college in the state which operated from 1931 through 1951, when it merged with a newly integrated UofL.

Another topic explored is the history of policing and police violence throughout the city. An example is the story of Fred J. Harris, a Black man who lost an eye after being beaten by police in 1979, and the work of the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to seek justice for Harris by demanding accountability from the police force.

Progress in Education (PIE) Records, (Box 3, Folder 3 "Statewide March on Frankfort, July 2, 1976"), 
Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.
Progress in Education (PIE) Records, (Box 3, Folder 3 “Statewide March on Frankfort, July 2, 1976”), Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

Housing and Urban Renewal is another focus of the Uncovering Racial Logics project. Select archival materials highlight the narrative of Louisville’s history of racist housing policies and practices, including the construction of racially segregated federal public housing projects in the aftermath of the destruction of neighborhoods and displacement of communities via Urban Renewal. These materials also reveal resistance to and organizing among the Black community and white allies to fight against racist housing policies and discriminatory practices. One such well known housing project is Beecher Terrace, which is explored via the papers of its long-time manager, Earl Pruitt.

Rounding out the project is an extensive, albeit not exhaustive, list of resources for further research. You can explore interactive maps that detail the history of racism within city planning and zoning, as well as redlining within Louisville. In addition is a list of community resources that highlight local organizations that work to empower and improve life for Louisville’s diverse citizens. Also included is a list of UofL Resourcesthathighlights on-campus organizations and committees that work towards racial and social justice, as well as minority affinity groups.

This project was created by Carrie Mott, Rebecca Pattillo, Melanie Gast, Anna Browne Rebiero, Joy Hart, Kelly Kinahan, and Catherine Fosl, with additional assistance from undergraduate and graduate research assistants Cat Alexander, Elizabeth Frazier, and Ben Harlan. Additional technical assistance was provided by Cassidy Meurer and Terri Holtze. Special thanks goes to UofL’s Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research (CCTSJR) and Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research (ABI) for funding and supporting this work, as well as our community partners.

Archives and Special Collections collects, organizes, preserves, and makes available for research rare and unique primary and secondary source material, particularly relating to the history and cultural heritage of Louisville, Kentucky and the surrounding region, as well as serving as the official memory of the University of Louisville.


2 Comments on “Louisville history of racial oppression and activism revealed in new online resource”

  1. […] Louisville History of Racial Oppression and Activism Revealed in New Online Resource (University of Louisville Libraries) […]


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