UofL Sociology professor Dr. Jon Rieger, who died in 2020 at age 83, distinguished himself in many areas beyond a remarkable 60-year academic career, including as a pioneer in visual sociology, as a US Navy captain, as a board member and patron of Louisville community and arts organizations, and as the author of a seminal bodybuilding manual.
Beyond these achievements and closer to the hearts of the local artistic community was Rieger’s strong impact on their creative work and lives. He functioned as a mentor, sounding board, supporter, caring critic, and advocate for many local musicians, photographers, painters and dancers. His obituary captures the love and respect they had for a man passionately devoted to fine art in its multi-varied forms.
One of Rieger’s strong, lifelong passions was contemporary classical music, which led him to amass a vast collection of recordings in various formats. Some are extremely rare, perhaps singular, from such locations as Russia, China, Eastern Europe, and the Americas, many gathered abroad during his years of active duty in the Navy.
Due to Rieger’s generosity and the University Libraries great fortune, these recordings are now publicly available at UofL’s Music Library. The new Jon Rieger Collection contains around 7,000 recordings (circa 4,000 LPs, 2,500 CDs and some 200 cassettes). Due to the size of the collection, the library’s process of cataloging is ongoing, but all recordings are available for borrowing or enjoying on site.
“Many of the recordings were collected while he traveled the world in the Navy and sought out recordings from other countries,” said Music Library Director James Procell. “So what you see in this collection are some extremely rare recordings, many of which were never commercially available in the US. He ordered pressings of particular broadcasts he encountered on the BBC, Radio Netherlands or on other international stations, so it’s possible these are the only recordings.”
A true audiophile, Rieger created a sophisticated sound environment in his home with two massive speakers for high-quality listening, said Procell. “He enjoyed sharing this experience with others and would often invite friends over for listening sessions and parties.”
In 2015 after Procell became Music Library director, Rieger reached out to him to arrange the library’s acquisition of his collection “when he was done with it” (i.e. upon his death). He wanted it to go to UofL, but remain separate from the Library’s main holdings.
“Typically, we can’t do that for most individual donors, but since Rieger’s collection is so unique and distinguished and expansive, we agreed to create a separate area for it. Not many people collect these types of sound recordings anymore, or have these big physical collections, so this is particularly special.”
Procell also plans to create a separate listening area with comfortable seating and headphones, so that students, faculty, researchers and the public can come and enjoy the music and browse the stacks at their leisure. The Music Library will organize the collection by record label, following Rieger’s own printed catalog of works and method of organization, which he updated until 2018.
“Anyone can check out the albums even though not all of them are cataloged as yet,” said Procell. “All are browse-able and on the shelves.”
Procell has been aided in his curation of Rieger’s collection by Louisville cellist, songwriter, and storyteller Ben Sollee. In Rieger’s obituary, Sollee says that Rieger “built a family around his love of the arts . . . that he affectionately coined the ‘Tin Ear Society.’ This expansive family of dancers, musicians, composers, photographers, writers, visual artists and creatives were all connected by his mentorship, patronage, and radically honest critiques of our work. He helped us make better and more meaningful art. And, importantly, he never missed an opportunity to get us all together to enjoy Louisville’s bounty of performances. He taught us all, as both a sociologist and Big Brother, that great art is the product of and the fuel that grows thriving communities.”
“Jon was a huge supporter of the arts,” said Procell. “He financially supported causes he thought were important, including various arts organizations, and individual artists, photographers, dancers and musicians.”
“He was a very good friend of the Music Library and the School of Music and is missed by everyone here that knew him.”
A treasure trove of roughly three million images have been donated to UofL’s Photo Archives by current and former owners of Louisville’s Courier Journal newspaper.
The Courier Journal – winner of 11 Pulitzer Prizes throughout its 154-year history – and its parent company Gannett have transferred its library of photographs and negatives to UofL Archives and Special Collections. Many of the images are iconic and capture important historical moments in the last century.
Members of Louisville’s Bingham family, which owned the newspaper from 1918 to 1986, have made a separate donation to support the collection, including preserving it, preparing it for use by the public, and developing programming to enable the public to engage with it.
Their combined generosity is creating the Barry Bingham Jr. Courier-Journal Photo Collection, a unique journalistic collection of local, state and national importance.
“We are incredibly grateful to the Courier Journal, Gannett, Emily Bingham, Molly Bingham and the rest of the Bingham family for making this historic gift possible,” UofL President Lori Gonzalez said. “Generations of readers saw these photos in their daily newspaper each morning, and now, future generations will continue to be able to study and appreciate the insight they provide into the history of our city, state, nation and world.”
“This gift will allow the Courier Journal to retain the legacy of our work through this collection of historic photographs,” said Courier Journal Editor Mary Irby-Jones. “It is important for us to preserve and share our work with others so our community can learn about the history of Louisville as captured through our photographers in the field for more than 150 years. The Courier Journal is honored to entrust this priceless archive to the care of the University of Louisville for the purpose of making the collection available to the community for research and scholarship.”
“For most of a decade, it has been our dream to honor our father by finding a permanent, public home for the Courier Journal’s photographic collection,” said Emily and Molly Bingham. “This visual treasure is a testament to his dedication to high quality journalism, his passion for photography, his love of archives and his commitment to public access to information. He is up there somewhere today, smiling and joyfully twirling his trademark handlebar mustache.”
About the Barry Bingham Jr. Courier-Journal Photo Collection
The collection, consisting of images created by the photo department that served both the Courier Journal and the afternoon Louisville Times newspapers, chronicles daily happenings and major events from approximately the mid-1930s to the early 2000s when digital photography began to replace the use of film to capture images. The collection doubles the size of UofL’s photo holdings. It might have dated back further, but the Great Flood of 1937 destroyed much of the newspaper’s photo and negative library.
“The collection chronicles the civil rights movement, World War II, the Kentucky Derby through the years, presidential visits, changes in the built environment, and numerous public appearances and behind-the-scenes images of world leaders and celebrities,” said Archives and Special Collections Director Carrie Daniels. “Basically, all of the changes happening within our country were captured in these photographs.”
“It’s an incredible collection,” Elizabeth Reilly, photo archivist, said, “and with any large-scale acquisition like this, it will take years to process, organize and add information to the collection, to make images discoverable and usable by the public.
“A small portion of the collection will be available online in the near future, and, as we process the amazing imagery it contains, we will be opening up bigger and bigger parts of the collection to the public, making it accessible to everyone who wants to see it.”
Reilly credited Barry Bingham Jr., the third and last Bingham family member to serve as the paper’s publisher, for his devotion to setting high standards for the photography his newspaper published. The Courier Journal won two Pulitzer Prizes for photojournalism during his tenure.
“He was a huge supporter of high-quality photojournalism,” Reilly said. “He grew and improved the quality of photography in the newspaper through investments, hiring talented photojournalists, and giving them time and travel budget to capture visual information beyond the news moment or press release. That commitment to quality is reflected in the collection and adds to its national significance.”
Daniels cited the increase in scholarship and creative potential that the collection will bring to UofL. “Our Photographic Archives already contain 2-3 million historical, documentary and fine art images dating from the 19th century to today that capture faces, buildings, landscapes and events from around the world, with a focus on Louisville and Kentucky. These images have appeared in scholarly or artistic work, including filmmaker Ken Burns’s documentaries, Dustbowl, Prohibition and Baseball. This dramatically increases our ability to provide images that everyone, including scholars and artists, will be able to use going forward, and we are very excited about that.”
The Barry Bingham Jr. Courier-JournalPhoto Collection Endowment is seeking additional contributions to support the organization, digitization, library services and public programming for this remarkable resource.
To make a contribution or for more information, contact Denise Bohn, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early posters and other works by internationally renowned Louisville artist Julius Friedman are featured in the exhibit Graphic Pioneer: The Early Poster Designs of Julius Friedman, 1965-1980, hosted by Photographic Archives, part of UofL’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC). The exhibit opened with a reception on July 14 featuring the dedication and renaming of the Photographic Archives gallery in Friedman’s honor.
Friedman’s sister, Carol Abrams, donated the bulk of his artistic works to the Photographic Archives after his passing in 2017. Ms. Abrams states, “Julius loved to mentor students and fellow artists. In giving his work to the Archives and Special Collections, students can learn from his work.” Ms. Abrams also generously provided support to renovate the gallery, enhance storage for ASC’s photographic holdings, including Friedman’s work, and prepare the collection for research by the community. This preparatory work is ongoing, but the full collection is expected to be open to the public in 2023.
Beloved by the local arts community, Friedman was also highly regarded among international audiences. Perhaps best known for the posters “Fresh Paint” and “Toe on Egg,” Friedman created posters and other graphic works for a broad range of clients. Outside of his design work, Friedman created his own artwork through photography – often printing on unique surfaces like metals and fabrics – as well as sculpture, furniture design, collage, book art, and collaborative video. While this exhibit focuses on his early posters, the collection includes this broad range of media and formats.
“Julius Friedman was such a significant figure in our local arts scene,” said Carrie Daniels, Director of ASC. “We are delighted to serve as the home of his archive, and to present a slice of it to the community in this exhibition.”
Friedman was a graphic design alumnus of UofL and had a decades-long relationship with the University Libraries. His work frequently appeared in ASC exhibits, including a 2012 celebration of Photographic Archives’ 50th Anniversary, which featured Friedman’s photographic capture of a ballerina in mid-swirl. Friedman’s close friend, former Art Library Director Gail Gilbert, inspired one of Friedman’s later efforts, a project titled The Book. Gilbert suggested that Friedman create works of art from old books that otherwise would have been thrown away, and he ran with the project, taking old books, tearing them, twisting them, boring into them, reconstituting them and creating art. The Book consists of 130 photographs of that art.
Among ASC’s Oral History Center (ohc.library.louisville.edu) digital offerings are two recordings of conversations between Abrams and ASC archivist and local historian Tom Owen. In them, Abrams discusses her memories of growing up with Julius, her older brother and only sibling, and how she came to work alongside him in his studio and then gallery to exhibit and sell his work commercially. Abrams recounts observing her brother’s talent burgeoning in childhood and watching him become successful as an adult. She also talks about establishing a nonprofit foundation in her brother’s name to help young people pursue academic degrees in the arts, the Julius Friedman Foundation (juliusfriedman.org).
The exhibition will run through December 16 in the Julius Friedman Gallery, on the lower level of Ekstrom Library. For more information, contact Elizabeth Reilly (502 852-8730; email@example.com).
In celebration of Pride Month, local news affiliate WHAS recently interviewed Rare Books Curator Delinda Buie and Archives and Special Collections donor and local activist David Williams about the Williams-Nichols Archive, one of the largest LGBTQ collections in the U.S.
Williams donated the large, eclectic archive to ASC in 2001 to honor his late partner Norman Nichols, who died in 1995. It contains many pieces of memorabilia from protests and demonstrations, parties and events, and photos, newspapers, magazines, flyers and other materials.
You can find the article here: https://www.whas11.com/article/news/community/moments-that-matter/louisville-lgbt-history-ekstrom-library-collection-archive-david-williams-kentucky/417-b72d609a-8fa2-4410-b309-0ed5853ba173
By Trish Blair
Have you ever thought about the names of the buildings and spaces while you were walking around downtown, your own neighborhood, or even the University of Louisville? The names of buildings, streets, and organizations are usually derived from either a person, place, or thing. The Hite Institute for Art and Design is named for Allen Rose Hite (1865-1941) whose generous bequest of nearly $1,000,000, 75 years ago elevated the Art department to a nationally known art program. But why did a businessman and attorney (UofL 1885) grant such a substantial sum of money to creating a space for students to learn the visual arts? Because his wife, Marcia S. Hite, was an artist and convinced him that the arts and art education was a valuable gift to the people of Louisville.
Marcia Shallcross Warren (1877-1946) was born in Louisville to a prominent family of steamboat captains and society dames. She entered a world of debutantes, formal dances, and ladies who lunch. After her debut, she met Allen R. Hite and they were married in 1897. They settled in a grand house on Third Street and began their life of civic duty and patronage. When the first World War broke out in Europe, Allen was too old for conscription, so he and Marcia volunteered at Camp Taylor. Marcia became a local hero by de-facto leading the Red Cross mission at Camp Taylor, raising $250,000 ($4.6 million in 2022 dollars) in 1918, for the Red Cross.
As part of the 75th anniversary of the Hite Institute of Art and Design, the Art Library will host an exhibit honoring Marcia Shallcross Hite, who along with her husband Allen R. Hite, made the bequest that funded the creation of the Hite Institute. During her lifetime, Hite exhibited her watercolors in New York and Boston alongside artists such as Edward Hopper and John Carroll. The exhibit is based on artifacts from the Allen R. and Marcia S. Hite papers in the Art Library’s manuscript collection and features some of Marcia Hite’s original works from the University of Louisville art collection. The exhibit will be on display throughout 2022.
When the war was over and they re-settled into married life, Marcia began taking art classes at the newly formed Louisville Handicraft Guild. She became president of that group’s next incarnation, the Louisville Art Center. During this time, Marcia discovered that she could paint and draw despite no formal training. In 1930, after painting watercolors for two years, she began exhibiting in New York and Boston, along such artists as Edward Hopper, as well as in Louisville. She became known as ‘Louisville’s Memory Painter.’
In 1941, she became a widow when her beloved husband Allen died at the age of seventy-six. However, before his death Marcia, had transformed Allen into an art lover and a philanthropist. When Allen wrote his first will, he made a codicil that they would bequest the bulk of their estate to the University of Louisville to create an art institute. In 1946, after Marcia passed, the Allen R. Hite Institute of Art was founded. At the time their gift was the largest in UofL history.
While the name has evolved over the last 75 years, the mission is still as they envisioned:
“For the furtherance of Modern art in general and education by teaching, lecture and scholarship.”
Without Marcia Shallcross Warren Hite the visual arts would be very different at UofL today.
A trove of work by Louisville artist Julius Friedman (1943-2017), including a diverse mix of graphic design, books, commercial art, and photography, was recently donated to University of Louisville’s Archives and Special Collections (ASC), by Friedman’s sister, Louisville philanthropist Carol Abrams.
And now Friedman’s work will soon be preserved, organized, cataloged and available for public viewing thanks to additional funding from Abrams which allows ASC to hire a project archivist.
“It’s a rich and unique group of materials and there are so many different types,” said Haley-Marie Ellegood, who will serve a one-year term as archivist for the Julius Friedman Collection. “He worked with widely different formats – there is graphic design, posters, photography, and at the end of his career he got into bookmaking. He was moving into video production when he died.”
A recent Indiana University graduate with a Master of Library Science, Ellegood specialized in archives and records management and worked in the IU Archives. In addition to researching, cataloging, and preserving the collection, Ellegood will help select items for an exhibit of Friedman’s works to be held in mid-July in ASC’s gallery.
“He really loved working for nonprofit groups and he mostly worked for free,” said Ellegood. “He wasn’t really into making money, but he created annual reports for corporations and was able to charge a fair fee for it. That type of payment apparently funded his work for nonprofits.”
Friedman was well known for his commercial photography, graphic design, and iconic posters, including “Fresh Paint”; “Ballerina Toe on Egg” for the Louisville Ballet; and “Ice Cream in French Horn” for the Louisville Orchestra.
In addition to many of Friedman’s iconic posters, the collection includes much of his photography, and graphic design for menus, postcards, stationery, event programs, and flyers. Other materials include some of his written work, including a few notebooks and some correspondence. ASC has had a relationship with Friedman going back decades. Although the Filson Historical Society has a small collection of Friedman’s art, ASC holds the largest part of the collection.
Ellegood says her love of archival work grew out of her love of history, her subject major as an undergraduate. “I love learning about important people in historic places and from historic times. And I enjoy making information accessible to people, so they can appreciate it.”
Processing Friedman’s collection is an exciting first professional project after graduate school for Ellegood. “His art really makes you think about what’s going on, it’s not what you would expect. You wouldn’t expect a ballerina to balance on an egg. It challenges your preconceived notions.”
Three University Libraries employees have been honored with awards for outstanding performance and merit, and for contributions to the Louisville community.
John Burton, Acquisitions Specialist with Technical Services won the University of Louisville’s annual Outstanding Performance Award honoring exceptional service in staff. Burton has worked for the Libraries for over 30 years, having begun as a libraries student assistant, and later with Technical Services, and has experienced first-hand the transformation of the library profession and its services, including the transition from an analog card catalog to digitized online collections. As Acquisitions Specialist, Burton is in charge of finding and evaluating items to add to the Libraries’ physical and digital collections.
The award comes with a cash award of $1,000, an acrylic plaque, and public mention on the University website and UofL Today.
Fannie Cox, Outreach and Reference Librarian, has been chosen for the University of Louisville Distinguished Faculty Award, which recognizes “the excellent service of the University of Louisville faculty and the significant impact that service has on the university and beyond.” The awards are given annually to faculty for exceptional service in five categories: service to UofL; service to the profession; service to the community, the commonwealth and/or the region; national/international service; career of service.
As community outreach and reference librarian, Cox has forged relationships with numerous organizations and individuals working to help under-served communities in Louisville, particularly in the West End. She leads the Outreach Program within the Libraries, which offers instructional support to community members, helping them develop informational literacy and critical thinking skills. She has been with the Libraries for 22 years.
Cox and Burton were honored at the 2022 Faculty and Staff Excellence Awards Reception on Monday, April 18 in the Student Activities Center ballroom.
Additionally, Weiling Liu, Head of Office of Libraries Technology, was one of five individuals selected to receive the Jewish Family and Career Services’ MOSAIC (Multicultural Opportunities for Success and Achievement In our Community) Award. The MOSAIC Awards “honor immigrants and refugees from around the globe who have made significant contributions in their professions to the Louisville community.” The 2022 nominations were open to individuals who, “regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or country of origin, have fulfilled their dreams of self-sufficiency and made an impact in our community” according to Liu’s award letter.
Liu has worked with the Libraries for 23 years. As the Head of OLT, she manages and directs a department responsible for all aspects of library technology systems and libraries technical support. In her history with the University Libraries, she oversaw the migration of the library catalog system and the implementation of Ekstrom Library’s noted Robot Retrieval System. She has been a member of state, national and international library professional associations. In addition, she is a life member of the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA), a non-profit international organization of librarians. Professor Liu also serves on the Association of Chinese Americans in Kentuckiana (ACAK) board and was president from 2018-2021.
The MOSAIC award ceremony and dinner will take place on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville. In addition to Liu, this year’s award winners are Dr. Faten Abdullah, Jose Neil Donis, Dr. Juan Gustavo Polo, and Frank Schwartz.
To honor the local Jewish community and provide special presentation, reflection and quiet study space for the UofL campus, The Susan and William Yarmuth Jewish Studies Reading Room officially opened on Ekstrom Library’s 3rd Floor with a ceremony on March 20.
The new space showcases the Libraries’ Jewish Studies collection, and features the Deborah and Rabbi Robert Slosberg Collection, which consists of the personal library the couple amassed over decades of serving and leading Jewish congregations.
Libraries Dean Bob Fox, UofL President Lori Gonzalez, William Yarmuth, Sue Yarmuth, Deborah Slosberg and Rabbi Slossberg at a ribbon cutting ceremony to open the new Jewish Studies Reading Room.
“We are excited to open the new Jewish Studies Reading Room and are grateful for the generous donations that allowed us to fully complete the room and open it to the public,” said Libraries Dean Bob Fox. “We hope that the room will serve to inspire future generations of scholars to greater success.”
The ribbon-cutting ceremony and room dedication included remarks from Interim President Lori Gonzalez, William and Susan Yarmuth, Rabbi Slosberg and Libraries Dean Fox before closing with a mezuzah dedication. A mezuzah is a small scroll inscribed with prayers and verses from the Torah and attached in a case near the opening of a home or building as a sign of faith as a constant reminder of God’s presence. As instructed in the Torah, Jews will often touch the mezuzah as they go through the door. In the Yarmuth Reading Room, it is located on the wall to the right upon entry.
The 2,600-square-foot space features floor-to-ceiling windows and offers one of the most scenic views on campus. Along with the Deborah and Rabbi Robert Slosberg Collection, the space features a drop-down screen, a built-in projection and sound system and Wi-Fi. It also includes a glass wall, which includes display cases for UofL’s Jewish Studies Program, part of the Department of Comparative Humanities, to use to highlight its collections.
The Susan and William Yarmuth Jewish Studies Reading Room will be used for reflection, study space, public events and guest speakers. The newly designed room can seat up to 42.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Tom Owen, Archivist for Regional History, Archives & Special Collections
Howard Breckinridge of Plano, Texas, a longtime friend of our Archives and Special Collections and a fountain of information about West Louisville history, told me that his eighty-eight-year-old cousin James Everett also had keen memories of Louisville’s African American community in the 1940s. Everett and his parents were among the first residents of the brand-new Beecher Terrace public housing project on Muhammad Ali, and he spent his entire youth enjoying the bustle of the ‘Old Walnut Street’ business district. I jumped at the chance to capture those memories on tape since Beecher Terrace is being totally redone as a mixed-income community. At the same time, the wisdom of the destruction by Urban Renewal of that segregated commercial district immediately west of downtown in the late 1950s is being reopened for debate.
The problem was James Everett, an Indianapolis resident, was in poor health and under Covid protocols it was unwise for me to travel. Heather Fox, director of ASC’s Oral History Center, stepped into the breech, downloading an app to my cell phone that allowed me to record an almost one-hour interview with James Everett which as a digital file has been added to our massive collection of 2000 oral histories, gathered since the early 1970s and including many from the African American community.
In our interview last July, Everett recalled the family move to Beecher Terrace when he was eight as a God-send—a new comfortable home with central heat, indoor plumbing, and hot and cold running water which trumped in every respect their former rental in Louisville’s Black Hill neighborhood at Eleventh and Magnolia. He also remembered ‘Beecher’ as a safe, pleasant community where children were admonished by other parents if they got out-out-of-line and there were plenty of things for kids to do. For him, the lengthy ‘Old Walnut’ business district, which bordered his home on the south and stretched from Sixth to Thirteenth and beyond, offered a potpourri of possibilities: a favored donut shop, movie theaters, cleaners and tailor shops, pawn shops, dry goods and drug stores, cafes, and taverns and much more. (Some of the venues were Black owned.) At one point, James tells how as a teenager he snuck into the locally famous Top Hat Nightclub without being ejected by Frankie Maxwell, the watchful manager. On Derby Day, he said, ‘Old Walnut’s’ sidewalks were filled with fashionably dressed visitors—some not even headed to the track—and a large parade filled the street on Thanksgiving Day prior to an annual Central High School rivalry football game.
One especially warm memory involved Mr. Davidson, James’ teacher at Central, who met eight or ten male students in the neighborhood and led them on a lengthy Saturday hike through Downtown Louisville, across the Second Street bridge, and down the Indiana shore to the Falls of the Ohio. Praising this youth mentorship, Everett told of wading into the shallow pools at the Falls to catch carp with his hands and stopping for lunch on the way back to Beecher Terrace. The last third of our interview is a chronicle of James Everett’s years in the Air Force, his brief return to Louisville, and a permanent move to Indianapolis where, after a decade of job changes, he was employed by Ford Motor Company twenty-eight years until his retirement.
Sadly, a couple of weeks ago, Howard Breckinridge texted that James Everett died on November 13. How happy I am that Heather Fox made possible a phone interview that will be preserved in our ASC Oral History Collection. Now we hold forever the memories of a childhood and youth of an elderly Indianapolis resident spent in the 1940s in Louisville’s Beecher Terrace housing complex along that once-vibrant ‘Old Walnut’ business district.