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 available to African American citizens. Separate but equal doctrine resulted in unequal and segregated facilities across the South, including in Louisville, where restrictive covenants on property and a segregated education system further entrenched racial segregation. The Plessy decision was challenged in various forms throughout the first half of the twentieth century, with limited victories until the groundbreaking "Brown v. the Board of Education" case in 1954. Brown found separate but equally inherently unequal in an education setting and required all public education facilities to desegregate. 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. A statewide public accommodations bill was rolled into the 1966 Kentucky Civil Rights Act, which legally desegregated all public accommodations in the Commonwealth.

The marker reads:


The full-scale assault on racial segregation in Louisville began in Feb. 1961, when local high school students staged non-violent demonstrations. Under leadership of the NAACP & CORE, they demanded passage of laws to end public racial discrimination. Fourth St. was hub of community activity where many protests and arrests occurred.


Negotiations with city officials, demonstrations, an economic boycott, voter registration, and issue oriented voting led to the passage, on May 14, 1963, of a law making it unlawful for anyone to be refused service in a public place because of race, color, religion, or national origin.

This marker was dedicated on October 22, 2011.