Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945-1980 (review)
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Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945-1980. By Tracy E. K'Meyer. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009. Pp. xi, 410. $40.00 cloth)

Tracy K'Meyer's Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South is a welcome addition to the growing literature on local civil rights movements and on those outside the deep South. In it, she leads the reader through a nuanced exploration of the intertwining relationships between various groups and tendencies within the movement as they shift and evolve over a thirty-five-year period. In addition, the author explores the connections between Louisville activists and movement activists throughout the country and notes that these connections informed the Louisville struggle but also contributed to the toolbox of tactics used around the country.

To Louisville activists, legal tactics, mass movement organizing, nonviolent direct action, political work, bloc voting, community organizing, and calls for black power were all useful and complementary tools. Indeed, Louisville activists "repeatedly and habitually forged collaborative relationships and partnerships across racial and ideological lines" including those between black nationalists and integrationists (p. 289).

Moreover, collaborative relationships within the movement allowed white activists to play important roles. Although Ann and Carl Braden are perhaps the best known, especially in their fight for open housing, many others emerged from white religious groups, educational institutions, and labor unions, especially CIO affiliates.

In addition, as the struggle unfolded, activists adjusted their tactics to meet new challenges. For example, as earlier tactics lost their effectiveness in the 1970s, "Activists worked to develop a new arsenal that combined grassroots organizing, monitoring of public [End Page 115] officials, and the use of bureaucratic enforcement mechanisms to effect continued change" (p. 291).

The book is also of interest because Louisville reveals much about the geographic, tactical, and ideological borderland of race that existed between the deep South and the North. Unlike in much of the South, no law required segregation in public accommodations in Louisville. Yet, state law did require segregation in public education. Ultimately, blacks in Louisville found themselves barred from many public accommodations by business owners, discrimination limited access to decent employment, the law segregated white children from black children, and, despite the fact that in Buchanan v. Warley (1917) the United States Supreme Court overturned the city's 1914 residential segregation ordinance, housing remained highly segregated.

Nevertheless, some of Louisville's white leadership publically embraced interracial amity, if not outright integration in the years after World War II. Moreover, they often contrasted their city with others in the South and touted it as a racially progressive model for solving the South's racial problems. For their part, Louisville civil rights activists often used white claims of racial progress as levers to push Louisville's white leadership to move faster than they wanted to, while questioning whether it was in fact much more progressive than elsewhere in the South.

Although Louisville activists accomplished a great deal over the thirty-five years covered by K'Meyer, at the end of the 1970s and into the 1980s, blacks in Louisville still found themselves fighting employment and housing discrimination, as well as poverty, and facing the fact that the landmark school-busing order had done little to guarantee access to quality education for their children. K'Meyer ends her narrative about 1980 as activists once again modified their tactics doing less mass organizing and increasing their participation in activities like school board meetings, educating black parents and students of their rights, and focusing on day-to-day policy and practice of the schools and government that affected their community. [End Page 116] Indeed, citing the continuing work of Louisville activists in a number of areas, K'Meyer argues, in the words of a local movement activist, "always the struggle continues. . . . I don't know when you can end it" (p. 285).

Charles F. Casey-Leininger

Charles F. Casey-Leininger is adjunct assistant professor of history at the University of Cincinnati and provides consulting services to community organizations through Casey-Leininger Associates.

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