Campaign to End Racial Segregation in Louisville

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 v. Ferguson" that racial segregation was lawful if "separate but equal" public facilities were provided for African American citizens. That ruling, as it concerned education, was overturned with the famous "Brown v. the Board of Education" case in 1954. Many public accommodations across the country, however, remained segregated after the "Brown" decision.

On February 1, 1960, four African American students walked into a Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s and quietly took a seat at the segregated lunch counter. They were refused service, but stayed until the end of the day. During the following days, the protest at that location grew and spread to other cities and states. Those four students set an example for others to follow.

Just one year after the Greensboro sit-ins, African Americans in Louisville, Kentucky, began their own demonstrations to end racial discrimination and segregation. Like the North Carolina protests, the Louisville actions were led by young people, largely area high school students. Under the leadership of organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), sit-ins, picket marches, and other forms of non-violent protest by African Americans and some white supporters began in earnest in February 1961. City police arrested protesters on charges of delinquency and disorderly conduct, but the demonstrations continued.

Many of the demonstrations centered on the 4th Street shopping district. There, African Americans were often discriminated against and harassed when attempting to make purchases or eat at certain restaurants. One of the most successful protests was the "nothing new for Easter" campaign. This boycott of clothing stores by African Americans was intended to apply economic pressure on store owners during the normally busy Easter season.

The various forms of protest proved to be effective. The mayor’s office opened negotiations with city businesses, which resulted in most of them desegregating by the summer of 1961.