Historical Resources on Racial Inequality in Louisville

Historical Resources on Racial Inequality in Louisville

In June 2020 the Filson Historical Society published an initial version of this list of resources on race, violence, injustice, and segregation in Louisville and across the American South along with resources about creating constructive conversations about race among families, in classrooms, and in communities. The Filson was prompted to do so in response to the protests which spread to many American cities in the wake of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The Filson is a research organization, whose mission is to preserve and tell the stories of the Ohio Valley region. The researchers who have studied our collections, who have presented in lectures to our membership, and who have published in our peer-reviewed journals have painted a composite picture of the city’s long history of discrimination, violence, and residential segregation directed against the African American community. Furthermore the silences in our records, by themselves, speak volumes. The Filson stands by the lessons of history that we have shared with our community and stands with the community as it applies those same lessons in the present. You can read the letter sent to the Filson membership in June 2020 here: Filson Community Response to Racism 8 June 2020.

We seek to move forward as a space of open, inclusive, and informed dialogue. These resources can help guide both our reflection and our next steps of action. Our past is challenging and complex, and it calls us to explore it honestly and fearlessly.  

Filson Historical Society, Sustaining Slavery: Mapping Kentucky’s Support for the Domestic Slave Trade

Utilize this ArcGIS StoryMap to learn about the locations and operations of Ohio Valley businesses that fed, clothed, transported, and processed the products of plantations in Kentucky and down the Mississippi Valley. Reference the keyword and commodities indexes to search for terms connected to enslaved labor.

Filson Historical Society, The Sanders-Bullitt Family Papers

A reworking of the Bullitt family papers to highlight the people enslaved by the Bullitt family on the Oxmoor plantation and the Cottonwood plantation from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. One of these families includes the Sanders family, headed by Eliza Sanders and her husband, Jim Sanders. While not all people enslaved by the Bullitt family were tied by blood to the Sanders family, the digitization and exhibition of these sources aim to recognize all of the people and families enslaved by the Bullitt family and bring academic attention to the complex community they fostered among each other while in bondage.

J. Blaine Hudson, Slavery in Early Louisville and Jefferson County Kentucky,1780-1812 Filson Club History Quarterly (July 1999)

Founded by Virginia soldiers and settlers, Louisville was stamped from its earliest days by the institution of slavery, writes the monumental scholar, community leader, and Director of the UofL Pan-African Studies Program, Dr. J. Blaine Hudson. 

Amy L. Young and J. Blaine Hudson, Slave Life at OxmoorFilson Club History Quarterly (July 2000)

Using archaeology and a close reading of the papers of the white Bullitt Family, Drs. Young and Hudson reconstruct the lives of resistance and accommodation on a Jefferson County plantation from the faintest echoes of African American voices in the historical record. 

J. Blaine Hudson, Crossing the ‘Dark Line’: Fugitive Slaves and the Underground Railroad in Louisville and North-Central KentuckyFCHQ (January 2001)

Reexamining Underground Railroad activity in the area around Louisville, Dr. Hudson finds that the city’s vibrant free Black community provided crucial support, supplies, and networks to help fugitives find freedom across the Ohio River. 

Luther Adams, It Was North of Tennessee: African American Migration to Louisville and the Meaning of the SouthOhio Valley History Journal (Fall 2003)

Fleeing the crushing poverty and violence of rural Jim Crow, thousands of African Americans migrated to Louisville from Kentucky and other Southern states in search of community and opportunity, but often finding poor-paying jobs and limited housing in segregated neighborhoods of the West End. “African American migration to Louisville offers an opportunity to explore the multiple ways African Americans conceived of the South, as a site of oppression, as a site of resistance and as Home.” 

Tracy E. K’Myer, The Gateway to the South: Regional Identity and the Louisville Civil Rights Movement OVH (Spring 2004)

As Civil Rights organizers began seeking change in the wake of WWII, they battled not only entrenched resistance but also the perception that Louisville as a city that straddled the border of the South and Midwest was, somehow, immune from the racism that plagued cities like Birmingham and Atlanta. 

Samuel Abramson, Disorder at the Derby: Race, Reputation, and Louisville’s 1967 Open Housing CrisisOVH (Summer 2015)

“No Housing, No Derby” was the slogan of Louisville protesters in the run up to the 1967 Derby, who planned to stand across the track to draw national attention to residential segregation in the city. “By early May, many Louisvillians were less concerned with residential segregation than they were with the national embarrassment that might stem from the accompanying protests. They simply wished to sip their juleps and place their bets in peace.” 

Joshua Poe, Redlining Louisville

This interactive story map allows us to visualize and document the unfair lending practices that hardened the lines of racial segregation in Louisville’s residential districts, one of the central themes of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Louisville history. 

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and CultureTalking About Race.

The Smithsonian’s resources for educators, parents, and citizens help guide tough conversations about invisible racial identities and biases at work in American society and rooted in 400 years of American history documented in the museum’s collections on the mall. Guided activities and videos are appropriate for small group discussion and individual reflection. 

African American Intellectual Historical Society, #Charlestonsyllabus. 

Responding to the horrific shooting at Emanuel AME Church in 2015, a diverse group of scholars, led by Black historians, assembled reading lists on the history of slavery, emancipation, religion, white supremacy, and Confederate memory. While many of the resources are specific to Charleston, the reading lists for the broader South are invaluable for all Americans at any time. 

American Historical Association, Bibliography of Historians on the Confederate Monument Debate

In the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville in 2017, members of the American Historical Association assembled a reading list of public statements from historians. Video interviews, op-eds, and Twitter threads show how historians apply their knowledge of the past to deadly eruptions of our violent history.