Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945-1980
The struggles of the civil rights movement were not limited to the Deep South. Although states like Alabama and Mississippi receive the most attention from historians, civil rights leaders were active across the country, challenging racial stereotypes and working to end discrimination in cities large and small. Louisville, Kentucky’s unique status as a border city between the North, South, and Midwest presented local civil rights leaders with fertile ground on which to pursue their agenda and their efforts would foreshadow the future direction of the national movement. Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945–1980, fills a void by focusing on four decades of Louisville’s civil rights history. Using a wide variety of primary and secondary sources, including oral history records of movement participants, Tracy E. K’Meyer connects the movement in Louisville to related movements in other cities in the region and across the nation. Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South offers insight into how America’s race relations got to where they are today, and clues to their future direction.
Situated on the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville, Kentucky, represents a cultural and geographical intersection of North and South. Throughout its history, Louisville has simultaneously displayed northern and southern characteristics in its race relations. In their struggles against racial injustice in the mid-twentieth century, activists in Louisville crossed racial, economic, and political dividing lines to form a wide array of alliances not seen in other cities of its size. In Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945–1980, noted historian Tracy E. K’Meyer provides the first comprehensive look at the distinctive elements of Louisville’s civil rights movement. K’Meyer frames her groundbreaking analysis by defining a border as a space where historical patterns and social concerns overlap. From this vantage point, she argues that broad coalitions of Louisvillians waged long-term, interconnected battles during the city’s civil rights movement. K’Meyer shows that Louisville’s border city dynamics influenced both its racial tensions and its citizens’ approaches to change. Unlike African Americans in southern cities, Louisville’s black citizens did not face entrenched restrictions against voting and other forms of civic engagement. Louisville schools were integrated relatively peacefully in 1956, long before their counterparts in the Deep South. However, the city bore the marks of Jim Crow segregation in public accommodations until the 1960s. Louisville joined other southern cities that were feeling the heat of racial tensions, primarily during open housing and busing conflicts (more commonly seen in the North) in the late 1960s and 1970s. In response to Louisville’s unique blend of racial problems, activists employed northern models of voter mobilization and lobbying, as well as methods of civil disobedience usually seen in the South. They crossed traditional barriers between the movements for racial and economic justice to unite in common action. Borrowing tactics from their neighbors to the north and south, Louisville citizens merged their concerns and consolidated their efforts to increase justice and fairness in their border city. By examining this unique convergence of activist methods, Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South provides a better understanding of the circumstances that unified the movement across regional boundaries.
Tracy E. K'Meyer is associate professor of U.S. history at the University of Louisville. She is the author of numerous articles on the civil rights movement and race relations, as well as the book Interracialism and Christian Community in the Postwar South: The Story of Koinonia Farm.
“This book is on the cutting edge of the historiography of the black freedom struggle in America.”—John Dittmer, author of Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in America
"This is a good book, and might also very well be one that has a lasting impact on the field of civil rights movement scholarship."--Jeffrey D. Howison, Binghamton University
"Tracy E. K’Meyer has provided clarity on Louisville’s efforts to address civil rights issues from after World War II to 1980. . . . a tightly written analysis."--Bowling Green Daily News
"K’Meyer has synthesized a wealth of detail into a highly readable history. . . . This is certainly the definitive book on the city’s civil rights history."--Louisville Courier-Journal
"The first person accounts convey the personal viewpoint and also the human emotions that were often so intense."--Kentucky Libraries
"This is a rich, conceptually sophisticated study with which historians will have to grapple as they prepare a new synthesis of the black freedom struggle."--Journal of American History
"K’Meyer clearly demonstrates the ways in which the city’s position as a 'gateway' between the North and the South significantly influenced the local civil rights movement. Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South succeeds in opening new ways of looking at the movement as a whole."--West Virginia History
"K’Meyer’s work avoids the tendency of flattening black freedom studies and effacing the field of southern history. Masterfully researched, compelling argued, and exceedingly readable."--Journal of Southern History
"The book is also of interest because Lousiville reveals much about the geographic,tactical, and ideological borderland or race that existed between the deep South and the North."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
"Brings us closer to understanding two seemingly paradoxical truths of the modern black freedom struggle: regional variations matter, and the Civil Rights movement unfolded differently with the South, across the Midwest, in the West, and in the North."--Southern Quarterly
"Highly Recommended"--Social & Behavioral Science Reviews
"K'Meyer's well-written, thoroughly researched volume is one of the most engaging community studies of the civil rights era to appear in recent years."--American Historical Review