Race Riot: Louisville KY 1968

April 23, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

Race is still a major issue in current day society, but the separation, turmoil, and anger associated with race issues seem to have diminished greatly over time.  When educators teach about the Civil Rights Movement we typically hear stories of black leaders such Martin Luther King Jr. and passive resistance strategies employed by citizens to elicit change.  The emphasis on non-violent strategies used during the Civil Rights Movement distracts from the anger and frustration of many of the black citizens of the time.  Kentucky is not often mentioned as a place of great racial disputes, but in 1968 Louisville Kentucky gained national attention as the site of a major racial riot.[i] The West End Community of Louisville Kentucky embraced and demonstrated their anger and opposition to oppression of the black community.

The riot that took place in Louisville lasted several days and eventually the National Guard became involved in an attempt to re-establish peace.  The riot began because of a traffic stop in the West End Community.  The traffic stop occurred because the police suspected Charles Thomas, who was an elementary school teacher, of being involved in a robbery.  A friend of the accused, Manfred Reid, became involved and the simple traffic stops by stopping and asking why his friend was being arrested.  On lookers started to multiply numbering over 200 and the situation began to escalate.  The police officers eventually got into an altercation with the teacher and his friend.  The two men were eventually arrested, but charges were ultimately dropped.  One of the police officers, Michael Clifford, was terminated for use of unnecessary force, but was reinstated due to political pressure by the Louisville Lodge Six of the Fraternal Order of Police. This event lead to the involvement of a local group called the Black Unity League of Kentucky (BULK).  The group chose to start a protest against the officer’s reinstatement and ill treatment of the community. [ii]

The protests lead to more violence and destruction in the neighborhood.  The protest quickly became a full blown riot.  The black community was angry and felt decided to display their anger throughout the neighborhood.  Bulk was created as a group to involve the more militant and youth groups of the black community.[iii] These groups may have been more prone to take the events in their community to a degree total rebellion.  The destruction in the neighborhood is especially tragic because the rioters destroyed or greatly damaged numerous black businesses.  During the riot 2 boys were killed and 472 people were arrested.

Mrs. Ruth B. Bryant was a mother and community leader in the West End Community.  She worked on the Mayor’s Advising Committee, West End Community Council, and a woman’s group in Southwick.  Her efforts involved working with community leaders in an attempt to elicit change in the community.[iv] Bryant’s esteemed position in multiple groups and her co-operation with the white community show that although there was attempts to work peacefully for change, some of the citizens in the community felt that the co-operation attempts of community leaders were not effective enough.

Over the 1968 year the West End Community of Louisville Kentucky went through a great deal of active resistance to the suppression of the black community.  The community was angered by the government’s inability to protect and promote their personal and communal rights.  The newer generations of black citizens took over the racial discrimination cause and were willing to use whatever means necessary to accomplish their goals.  The attempts of the militant BULK lead group were met with the same hostility on the opposing white side.  The police officers involved in this event chose to take on unnecessary actions that resulted in numerous days of unrest, instability, and danger for the West End Community.


[i] Violence Flares Up In Louisville Again; Arrests Reach 350

New York Times (1923-Current file); May 31, 1968; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851 – 2007) 11.

[ii] Luther Adams. Way Up North in Louisville African American Migration in the Urban South, 1930-1970 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), <http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=605903>. 184-189.

[iii] Luther Adams. Way Up North in Louisville African American Migration in the Urban South, 1930-1970 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=605903, 187.

[iv] Lawrence Kenneth Chumbley (interviewer), and Bryant, Ruth. Oral history interview with Ruth Bryant (University of Louisville Archives and Records Center, 1970), <http://worldcat.org/search?q=on:KLG+https://digital.library.louisville.edu/cgi-bin/oai2.exe+afamoh+CNTCOLL>. 13-16.

Work Cited:

  • Adams, Luther. Way Up North in Louisville African American Migration in the Urban South, 1930-1970. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. <http://public.eblib.com/EBLPublic/PublicView.do?ptiID=605903>.
  • K’Meyer, Tracy Elaine. Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945-1980. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.
  • Violence Flares Up In Louisville Again; Arrests Reach 350

New York Times (1923-Current file); May 31, 1968; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2007)

pg. 11

  • Chumbley, Kenneth Lawrence (interviewer), and Bryant, Ruth. Oral history interview with Ruth Bryant. University of Louisville Archives and Records Center, 1970. <http://worldcat.org/search?q=on:KLG+https://digital.library.louisville.edu/cgi-bin/oai2.exe+afamoh+CNTCOLL>.

 

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to toolbar