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Former Metro Councilwoman sees teenage self fighting for equality in rare footage of Dr. Martin Luther King's Louisville visit

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. visited Louisville several times, but one particular visit in 1967 made an impact on several community leaders.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy can be seen around the world. And while his name is associated with places like Selma and Montgomery, he made a major impact right here in Louisville, Kentucky.

On March 30, 1967, Black Louisville residents gathered on 28th St.to make signs for an open housing protest. Dozens marched down to Memorial Auditorium at 4th and Kentucky where a show was underway inside with an all-white audience. 

Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, 16 years old at the time, was present at the march. Looking back at that day, she said she feels like she's come full circle.

"As a teenager in the open housing movement, I got thrown out, thrown down the steps of City Hall, and then I come back and I'm an alderman and working in the same chambers I got thrown out of," she said.

RELATED: 11 powerful Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. quotes that remind us of his message

Civil rights leader Dr. Ralph Abernathy was part of the protest, calling for the city of Louisville to open its housing to Blacks in all neighborhoods - not just the west end. While changes were made, Hamilton said legislation wasn't enough.

"You can change laws, but we didn't change the hearts and minds of the people," she said.

Steve Porter, an attorney in Louisville, grew up in the east end with Republican parents and was an active member of the civil rights movement in his 20s, visiting Alabama for the end of the march on Selma. He said the Louisville of 1967 was a city of "polite racism."

"We were not a history of lynching and horrible conduct - we were polite racism," he said.

While in law school at the University of Louisville, Porter invited Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to speak. He said the crowd on campus was eager to hear what he had to say.

University officials said they didn't have any film of the visit, but WHAS11 crews were there and captured part of his speech, which was focused on promoting open housing.

"I think there is no greater danger in our nation than the constant building up of predominantly negro central cities ringed by white suburbs. This does nothing but invite social disaster," Dr. King said.

See the footage below:

Dr. King said this problem wasn't exclusive to Louisville - it was happening in many of the country's major cities - but it was something that needed to change.

"I think he saw Louisville as a little in between - still with a lot of problems, no doubt about that," Porter said.

Father Bruce Williams, the pastor at Louisville's Bates Memorial Church, said the words Dr. King spoke in Louisville in 1967 are still relevant today. While laws have changed and progress has been made, racism is an ongoing issue.

"Him coming gave hope to people who were struggling, but him coming also was an indictment against the way Louisville is," Williams said.

Williams believes that there is still hope for the city and said the community has the understanding it needs to address the issues Dr. King addressed decades ago.

While Dr. King's visits to Louisville may not have changed everything, for those he inspired, their lives were forever changed.

"It influenced the whole rest of my life, my career. Everything I've done since then has been shaped from those experiences," Cheri Hamilton said.

Contact Doug Proffitt atdproffitt@whas11.com. Follow him onTwitter (@WHAS11Doug) andFacebook.

   

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