Historic African American Newspaper Louisville Leader Now Fully Transcribed and Searchable

A group of descendants of I. Willis Cole, founding publisher of The Louisville Leader (1917-1950), gathered last week in the offices of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections to celebrate a milestone – the transcription of all issues of the historic African American weekly newspaper.

An online searchable archive of the newspaper’s stories was made possible by a crowdsourced transcription project launched seven years ago by Archives and Special Collections. Now the public can easily peruse the newspaper’s stories, which included local, regional, national, and international news as well as school, church, sports, theater, club, business, and social events.


Grandchildren and descendants of I. Willis Cole, publisher of the Louisville Leader, gather to celebrate the completion of the transcription project. 

First published on November 10, 1917 and continuing weekly until September 30, 1950, six months after Cole’s death, the newspaper had a strong editorial voice.

“It was a newspaper that celebrated freedom, spoke to power and advocated for the betterment of everyone,” said Aaron Cole, I. Willis Cole’s grandson.

“I was a white child in Louisville in the 1930s and 40s . . . and I thought civil rights began in 1950,” said Tom Owen, UofL archivist and historian. “It didn’t. You can’t hold these pages without realizing that civil rights began long before the 1950s.”

Fully digitized and publicly available since February 2013, the Leader has been an important resource for scholars and researchers. When a member of Ken Burns’ team working on a Jackie Robinson documentary sought to determine whether Robinson was jeered and booed in Louisville when he played with the (all-white) Major League, the Leader was able to provide an answer: yes. Among many other requests for information from the Leader’s pages, a local blues society consulted it for research on a historical marker; and an ASC intern consulted it to write a graduate paper on the segregation of Louisville’s public park system.


Celebratory cake shows the Leader’s 20th Anniversary edition.

Original copies of the newspaper were stored at the Cole Publishing Company, where Aaron Cole said “there may have been a few field mice who were also enjoying it.” These copies were badly damaged by a fire in 1954. Eventually, the family gave the badly deteriorated bulk of the collection to Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky, who loaned them to the University of Louisville in 1978 for microfilming.

In 2011, ASC personnel had the microfilm scanned, intending to provide free online access, but the poor quality of the optical character recognition (OCR) hindered the discoverability of the content to search engines.


ASC Director Carrie Daniels, Digital Initiatives Librarian Rachel Howard, and Metadata Librarian Rebecca Pattillo.

Fortunately, a solution lay in online crowdsourced transcription, whereby volunteers type the stories from their home or office computer.  The project involved many Libraries personnel, including the server administrator, digital technologies systems librarian, web services librarian, and archivists, who collaborated to set up the software and design its look and workflow. A Public History graduate student interning in fall 2012 prepared issues for uploading into ASC’s Digital Collections and articles for transcription.

ASC launched the Louisville Leader Transcription Project during African-American History Month in 2013, and continued to upload articles for transcription, allowing volunteers and ASC personnel to transcribe text for search until mid-October 2019.

Digital Initiatives Librarian Rachel Howard said that by observing patterns in usage and hearing from some volunteers, she and her colleagues have learned many valuable lessons from the project.

student assistants

ASC student assistants who contributed to the transcription project.

“People choose to transcribe for the same reasons they seek to volunteer in-person in libraries, museums, archives, and historical societies,” she said. “It’s because they are interested in history, they want to contribute, and they have time to do so.

“The work of the volunteer transcribers didn’t need editing. Only one transcription failed to include the text of the article itself, and it was not spam, but a commentary on the current state of a public housing project that was new (and full of hope) in a 1940 issue of the Leader.”

One “super-user,” a local woman now in her 80s who contributed her time almost every day for many years, emailed Howard frequently when she noticed an incomplete article or a glitch with the software. Some of Howard’s favorite quotes from the contributor include: “I am now transcribing events that took place when I was 10 years old” “At all times we should keep in mind that ‘history’ is what we are living right now. We still have far to go, but oh, how far we have come.”; and “I am enjoying this . . . I know I am making a contribution, and in the process I am getting a good look at history from a different perspective. . . I feel that I have known some of these people, their clubs and church work, etc., as well as some of the issues that had meaning for them. I googled the Bard-Fleming case last week because I wanted to know how it ended. . . Yes, I am getting something out of this, too.”

“I really just want to thank everybody in the community, here and online, who made this accomplishment possible,” Howard said.


Jimmy Stewart gets classically political

by Brittney Thompson

Can one person really make a difference? Is all it really takes for one person’s voice to be heard? Director Frank Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) attempts to answer these questions in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jimmy Stewart (The Philadelphia Story, Harvey, Rear Window) stars as Jefferson Smith, an Everyman character who generations of audiences can’t help but get behind. Jefferson is naïve, but hopeful. As the den father of a boy scouts group, how could he be anything but kind and selfless for sake of his community? Unfortunately, the bigwigs in Washington take him as a simpleton and assume that Jefferson (along with being quite the patriot) will be easy to manipulate into carrying out misdeeds (as long as Jefferson believes what he is doing is for AMERICA) or to set him up as the perfect scapegoat. Ultimately, Mr. Smith is selected by Washington to replace a recently deceased senator if only because he is a ‘good ole boy’ who isn’t quite long in the tooth with politics yet. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington not only has an alluring plotline, but does great things with language. This is a movie that almost everyone knows by one scene (even if they’ve never seen the movie in full): the filibuster ordeal. Here is where some of the best speeches in film history are made. If anything, we could all take a lesson from Jefferson in public speaking. This film also works to spark the audience interests in politics for the previously apolitical. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes. The SGA movie collection has two copies.

The Mazzoli Reading Room… and Much More

Mazzoli campaign button, 1982

Mazzoli campaign button, 1982

Anyone who was on the fourth (okay, and third) floor of Ekstrom Library on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 8 knew something was up. This area — normally known for its silence — was packed full of people who gathered to celebrate the dedication of the Romano L. Mazzoli Reading Room in the University Archives and Records Center. A native Louisvillian and alumnus of the Brandeis School of Law, Romano (Ron) Mazzoli represented Kentucky’s Third Congressional District for 24 years, from 1971 until 1995. We also opened his papers to researchers and launched an online oral history collection focusing on the Congressman, his life and career.

The reading room includes exhibits focusing on Congressman Mazzoli, which can be enjoyed anytime between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm Monday-Friday. A companion exhibit showcases Louisville’s Italian American community. The Italian American Association (IAA) has been a generous supporter of the Archives’ work on the Congressman’s papers, and we are working with the IAA to collect materials that document the lives of Italian Americans in Louisville. If you are interested in making a donation, please give us a call at 852-6674!

Romano Mazzoli and his parents, circa 1934

Romano Mazzoli and his parents, about 1934

The Congressman’s papers themselves fill 633 boxes (that’s nearly 700 feet of shelf space). They document his campaigns as well as his time in office, including his work on the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. They also tell the story of a Congressman who placed a very high value on being accessible and helpful to his constituents. A detailed description of the papers is available online (http://uofl.me/lib-mazzoli), and the papers themselves can be accessed in the Archives on the fourth floor of Ekstrom Library.

In addition, we conducted 66 hours of oral history interviews with the Congressman, his colleagues, staffers, campaign volunteers and family. These interviews complement the papers, giving life to the official record and telling stories that simply aren’t captured on paper. These are being made available online via the University Libraries’ Digital Collections (http://uofl.me/lib-mazzoli2).

So come take a look at these new resources – whether in person or virtually!