Louisville's Hidden Figures: Cave Hill Cemetery offers Civil Rights Leaders Tour

Cave Hill Cemetery Civil Rights Tour

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Cave Hill Cemetery, where Muhammad Ali was laid to rest, is also home to other greats whose stories some people may not have heard.

As part of the “I Am Ali Festival,” Cave Hill highlighted some those hidden figures on Friday in a special tour.

Cave Hill Cemetery was chartered in 1848 and is deeply rooted in Louisville's history.

“People do forget, sometimes, the past,” said Michael Higgs, Cave Hill’s Foundation Manager.

Higgs says he’s trying to change that, leading the Civil Rights Leaders tour around the cemetery.

“They easily drive past a monument, drive past a name and they don't see it,” said Higgs.

There are over 136,000 people buried at Cave Hill and Higgs says if you look closely, you can find quite a few people who played a key role in breaking barriers.

One of the first stops of the tour was the resting place of Woodford Porter, the first African-American to serve on the local school board and one of the first African-Americans on the University of Louisville's Board of Trustees. 

Higgs says Porter left his civic mark on the city in many ways.

“He helped integrate Jefferson County public schools as we know it today.”

The Porter name is well known for the family's funeral home business, which Higgs says struggled back in the early 1920s, but the Porters never gave up.

Fast forward and Higgs says it all came full circle as the Porter family took care of Muhammad Ali's funeral arrangements.

Not far from Porter’s grave sits the grave site of civil rights activist Reverend W.J. Hodge, the pastor of Fifth Street Baptist Church for 30 years.

“Very integral in establishing fair housing in the community,” said Higgs.

Hodge was the first African-American to serve and to lead the Louisville Board of Aldermen.  Higgs says Hodge's passion and fight for civil rights was ignited after he was denied a cup of coffee in 1957.

“He was obviously aware of the pressing need to make a difference in his community and that really launched his further work.”

Another influential leader in Louisville's history was Benjamin Shobe, the first African-American to serve on Kentucky's Circuit Court since reconstruction.

Shobe is well-known for his work with Thurgood Marshall on the case of Lyman T. Johnson vs. the University of Kentucky.

“That opened the door for African-Americans to enter the University of Kentucky and become entrenched in higher education,” said Higgs.

The tour also honors others like Senator Georgia Powers, the first woman of color and first female to be elected to the Kentucky State Senate.

The tour ends at Muhammad Ali's grave, a memorial Higgs says sees visitors from around the world every day. 

Ali's headstone reads, "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room in heaven," a lesson taught by his fellow brothers and sisters at Cave Hill who also fought for a world of peace and equality.

Cave Hill Cemetery offers tours throughout the year, for more information click here: www.cavehillcemetery.com/.
 

© 2017 WHAS-TV


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