The Fight for Equality in Housing

November 18, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, Economic history, Oral history, Primary source, Social history

Ruth Booker Bryant of Louisville KY, 2003

Ruth Booker Bryant, KY Commission on Human Rights Hall of Fame 2003

The effects of segregation in Louisville, Kentucky led the city to be split into two major sections. On the Black side of the city, the living conditions were rough, harsh and dirty for most African Americans. The claim ‘separate but equal’ was clearly not equal here. Some neighborhoods could be compared to third world country living conditions. While working as a social worker, Ruth Booker Bryant saw with her own eyes the way that some people were living, due to the poverty and the lack of upkeep by the cities garbage companies and housing companies.

Mrs. Bryant quit her job after seeing first hand people sleeping in the dirt, eating out of cans, having no furniture, etc. Mrs. Bryant lived in “Little Africa” (a segregated section of the Parkland neighborhood) for some time when first arriving to Louisville in the late 1940’s. This part of town had outside toilets and pigs and chickens running around people’s yards. This style of living needed to be upgraded, and seeing the things she did while being a social worker and then after living in Little Africa, she started to get involved with political activism on a small scale.

Ruth Booker Bryant joined the Women’s Committee of the Louisville Urban Renewal League, which had both white and black members. It was designed for progressive thinkers from bothe races to meet and “break the ice.” This was the first step in stopping segregation and for raising the bar for women’s rights in Louisville. Soon there after in the early 1960’s she became the chairman for the Housing Committee and joined the Louisville League of Women Voters. Mrs. Bryant’s new goal was to drastically improve the housing aspect of poor African Americans living in Louisville. She worked with leaders from government funded agencies such as Head Start as well as non-government groups active in Louisville during the early 1960’s during the War on Poverty. Her goal was to make the entire city of Louisville a better place to live.

Through her constant vigilance, Mrs. Bryant was able to impact her community  and bring about positive change to the people of Louisville. She crossed over racial and gender lines by being a black female. Mrs. Ruth Booker Bryant always carried herself in a positive light and never had time for hate. Women like her have helped change Louisville and Kentucky as a whole.

Most of my information came from:

Mrs. Ruth B. Bryant. Interview by Kenneth L. Chumbley. Digital recording and transcript. July 24, 1977. Tapes No. 592 and 593, Oral History Series, University of Louisville Archives, Louisville, KY.

Ruth Booker Bryant, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, University of Kentucky Libraries, Lexington, KY.

See also the Lois Morris papers at the University of Louisville Special Collections: http://kdl.kyvl.org/cgi/f/findaid/findaid-idx?c=klgead;cc=klgead;view=text;rgn=main;didno=klgar57k

3 responses to The Fight for Equality in Housing

  1. It is great to see women who make a changes in society. It is ridiculous when you see people trying to fight for such things as equal housing.

  2. It is always interesting to me to see the activism associated with equal housing in cities around Kentucky, and how black communities are still present today. Coming from the small town of Harrodsburg, the community located on Broadway near Old Fort Harrod is still a community that is predominantly black. While Harrodsburg in no relation is the size of Louisville, many of the people in this area live in conditions most of the citizens consider to be unpleasent. Hearing stories of how this area of town had always been one of underprivledged individuals, and the description of “Little Africa” in Louisville, makes you realize how segregation and the oppression of African-Americans, was present in the smallest of towns in Kentucky.

  3. I’m a white girl, I’ve never had to fight for my rights, but Ms. Booker-Bryant will always be a hero to me and someone to be admired and emulated.

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