Fifty Years On, the Stories of May 1968 Are Still Being Told

The spring of 1968 was a tumultuous time in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, in Memphis, Tennessee. While the nation at large was stunned, Black communities in particular were struck by the loss of a central spokesperson and leader of the civil rights movement. Tension and unrest followed the assassination, with both peaceful and violent protests in many cities met by National Guard deployments and wide media coverage. Despite King’s influence on a generation of civil rights leaders in Louisville, there was no major unrest immediately following the assassination.

Then, on May 27th, in the wake of a community gathering in the Parkland neighborhood held in response to the handling of a case in which a police officer beat a Black man during a traffic stop, unrest broke out. The National Guard was called in, and during the unrest several hundred people were arrested and two young Black people were killed.

The Parkland neighborhood, and the West End in general, are thought to have suffered financially and civically in the wake of the unrest, with ramifications that can still be observed today. Two recent stories in local media are marking the 50th anniversary of the events of May, 1968. Both feature images from the George Beury Civil Rights Photograph Collection held by the Filson, documenting the presence of the National Guard in the West End in late May of 1968. Heather Potter, Associate Curator and Photograph Archivist, wrote about the Beury collection in a previous post (click here to read it). You can also click here to read another post about segregation and the civil rights movement on the blog.

Each instance of unrest, peaceful protest, or violence perpetrated by the government or the community deserves to be considered in its own context, and in the broader context of local, national, and world events. Later during the same spring, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in California, and large-scale student protest broke out in France. That summer, the Democratic National Convention was rocked by intense disturbances. The unrest of 1968 was by no means limited to Louisville, or to the Black community, or to the United States.

We are honored to have our collections featured in the following stories, as we continue to tell of and learn from this important chapter in Louisville's modern history:

A three-part series by Steve Crump on WAVE 3 News, the first part linked here (click to proceed to WAVE 3)

An in-depth article in Louisville Magazine by Mary Chellis Austin (click to proceed to Louisville Magazine)

Aaron Rosenblum

Aaron Rosenblum is an Associate Curator of Special Collections at The Filson Historical Society.

2 comments on “Fifty Years On, the Stories of May 1968 Are Still Being Told

  1. Christopher Padgett

    Aaron, if you want to add some video to your collection, you need to get a copy of the pre-1968 BBC video report from Louisville prior to King’s assassination when he visited Louisville during the Derby Festival. I’ve seen the video and its pretty interesting to see and hear how the city’s establishment talked back then about African Americans.

    1. Aaron Rosenblum

      Thanks very much for the tip! The open housing protests around the 1967 Derby are another fascinating and important – and too little known – chapter in our city’s history. The topic was covered in an article by Samuel Abramson in the Summer 2015 volume of our Ohio Valley History journal.


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