Explore KY's Civil Rights History

Tour curated by: The ExploreKYHistory Team

The struggle for citizenship, respect, opportunity, and equality by Kentucky's African Americans is as old as the state itself. Long denied chances to prove themselves worthy of citizenship by the institution of slavery, and thus denied the ability to obtain the rights which it entails, black Kentuckians have always found ways to be active agents in seeking freedom and equality.

The current trend in Civil Rights history rightly takes the "long" approach to the subject. Historians widely acknowledge that the accomplishments of the 1950s and 1960s did not come without the efforts of earlier generations. Kentucky's almost 24,000 African American Union soldiers laid the foundation for the right to demand the citizenship their service had bought. Those rights, such as the right to testify in court, the right to vote, and the right to seek economic opportunity were expressed in African American conventions during the Reconstruction years. Although many of those demands were denied by a legally segregated society in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Kentucky's African Americans kept demanding and kept advancing. The generations that followed emancipation continued the drive for equality. Unfortunately, the significance of Kentucky’s civil rights struggle is not emphasized, examined, or understood enough today. This tour hopes to remedy that.

By highlighting Kentuckians and Kentucky places that many of the general public have never heard of, much can be learned about and a better appreciation can be developed for those who gave us the chance to have a voice. Without the work of these people at these places our state would not be the democratic place that it is today. In this tour you have the opportunity to find out how these individuals, groups, and places impacted civil rights history. Included, too, are numerous primary source images and documents that help illustrate Kentucky's civil rights story. We hope that you will use this tour to learn about, better understand, and appreciate our state's role in the effort for civil rights.

Locations for Tour

Historical Marker #1960 in Russellville notes the accomplishments of civil rights activist and author Alice Allison Dunnigan. A love of learning and a desire for self-improvement are important motivating factors in successful peoples' lives. …

Marker #1970 in Anderson County notes the achievements of Anna Mac Clarke as a pioneer in military leadership and in ending segregation on military bases. Anna Mack Mitchel was born on June 20, 1919, in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Her mother, Nora…

Historical Marker #1845 in Louisville notes the historical significance of Calvary Baptist Church to the city's African American community. Purchased for $1 and deeded to Henry Smith, a free man of color, in 1833, the plot of ground became a…

Historical Marker # 2355 in Louisville notes the important role that non-violent demonstrations played in bringing an end to legal racial segregation in that city. In 1896, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case of "Plessy…

Historical Marker #2008 notes contributions made to the University of Louisville by Charles H. Parrish, Jr., the institution's first African American professor. Parrish's father was born into slavery in Fayette County, Kentucky, in 1859. …

Historical Marker #1964 in Louisville notes the political career of Charles W. Anderson, Jr., the first African American elected to a Southern state legislature in the twentieth century. During the Reconstruction era, a number of African Americans…

Historical Marker #2254 in Louisville notes the location of the Wade home, which was bombed in the summer of 1954 after an African American family attempted to live in an all-white neighborhood. By the early 1950s, Louisville had integrated much of…

Historical Maker #2191 at Murray State University notes the 1955 desegregation of that educational institution. Much of the evidence that prompted the United States Supreme Court in the landmark "Brown v. the Board of Education" decision…

Historical Marker #1663 in Louisville notes the achievements of African American educator and leader James Bond. Bond was born into slavery in 1863 on the Anderson County farm of Preston Bond. Preston Bond is listed in the 1860 census as a…

Historical Marker #2254 in Louisville notes the location of the home of Anne and Carl Braden, who were active in the Civil Rights Movement. Anne and Carl Braden are probably best known for their efforts to bring fair housing to Louisville in the…

Historical Marker #1998 in Louisville notes the pioneering civil rights efforts of I. Willis Cole, noted publisher of "The Louisville Leader," an African American newspaper. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass once said, "Those…

Historical Marker #1662 notes the Louisville location of the Knights of Pythias Temple. Although many fraternal organizations predated the Civil War, most African Americans were not allowed to form separate chapters of these benevolent societies…

Historical Marker # 1961 notes the importance of the Lexington Colored Fair Association, which highlighted the achievements of African Americans to society in the years following emancipation. Most often relegated to second class status by…

Historical Marker #1930 in Shelby County notes the location of the Lincoln Institute, which was founded to educate African American students. In the wake of the Supreme Court Decision of the 1904 Kentucky Day Law, which legally segregated public and…

Historical Marker #2019 in Glasgow honors Luska Joseph Twyman, the first African American elected to a full term as mayor of a Kentucky city. Twyman was born in Barren County in 1913. He was educated in the county's black public schools and…

Historical Marker #2147 in Millersburg (Bourbon County) notes the legislative service of Mae Street Kidd. Kidd was born during what many historians refer to as the "nadir of race relations" in the United States. She was born in…

Historical Marker #2036 in Owensboro notes the accomplishments of Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Moneta J. Sleet, Jr. An age-old adage declares that "a picture is worth a thousand words." But a picture also has the power to bring…

Historical Marker #2339 in Louisville notes the location of the house where the famous boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali grew up. Muhammad Ali, originally named Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., was born in Louisville in 1942. Ali grew up at 3302…

Historical Marker #2134 in Louisville notes Murray Atkins Walls’ achievements as an educator and civil rights activist. Walls was born on December 22, 1899, in Indianapolis. She was the daughter of a physician, Calvin R. Atkins. While in Indiana,…

Historical Marker #1657 notes the location and significance of the Zion Baptist Church in Louisville. A small number of African Americans left the York Street Baptist Church to begin their own congregation in 1877. For a year they rented the old…

Historical Marker #1419 in Shelby County commemorates Whitney M. Young, Jr., one of the primary personalities of the Civil Rights Movement. Young was born in Lincoln Ridge, Kentucky (Shelby County), in 1921. His father was an educator, and later…

Given to the University of Kentucky by the class of 1999, Historical Marker #2022 commemorates the desegregation of UK. In 1948, Lyman T. Johnson filed suit for admission to the university. In March 1949, Federal Judge H. Church Ford ruled in…