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Kentucky honors Black History Month saluting most influential local heroes

"The teaching of Black History is essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society."
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Black History Month. African American History. Celebrated annual. In February in United States and Canada. In October in Great Britain. Poster, card, banner, background. Vector illustration

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As a salute to the contributions that African Americans have made to American history in their struggles for freedom, Louisville honors Black History month to have a better understanding of our Nation's history.

Although Black History should be implemented and mentioned year-round, federally February is the month as a nation we celebrate and honor the legacy of Black and African Americans.

Before there was a month to celebrate the legacy and history of Africans and Black Americans, there was what they called “Negro History Week.” Negro History Week was the second week of February birthed in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

The primary emphasis was placed on encouraging the coordinated teaching of the history of American blacks in the nation's public schools.

Woodson contended that the teaching of black history was essential to ensure the physical and intellectual survival of the race within broader society:

"If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated. The American Indian left no continuous record. He did not appreciate the value of tradition; and where is he today? The Hebrew keenly appreciated the value of tradition, as is attested by the Bible itself. In spite of worldwide persecution, therefore, he is a great factor in our civilization."

The first Black History Month was celebrated and recognized by President Gerald Ford during the United States Bicentennial. The United States Bicentennial at the time was a series of celebrations during the mid-1970s that paid tribute to historical events leading up to the United States of America as an independent republic.

On February 11, 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244 that marked the beginning of Black History Month as public and private salute to Black History. President Ronald Reagan issued a Presidential Proclamation 5443  which proclaimed that “the foremost purpose of Black History Month is to make all Americans aware of this struggle for freedom and equal opportunity.” This proclamation stated further that this month was a time “to celebrate the many achievements of African Americans in every field from science and the arts to politics and religion."

Take a look at Louisville natives who’ve made an immense impact in Louisville history:

1) Muhammad Ali- Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville January 17, 1942 (-2016). Clay changed his name To Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam. Ali began boxing at 12. Ali is known to be a boxer, activist and philanthropist. At 18-years-old Ali received a Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympic games and began boxing professionally later that year. The Louisville native is internationally known as the three-time heavyweight world champ. The local hero retired in 1981 and in 1984 revealed he suffered from Parkinson’s syndrome. Ali is survived by his nine children, his brother. Ali passed June 3, 2016, at his Scottsdale, Arizona home and is peacefully resting at the Cave Hill Cemetery.

FILE - In this May 25, 1965, file photo, Muhammad Ali stands over Sonny Liston after knocking Liston down during their' heavyweight championship bout in Lewiston, Maine. (AP Photo/John Rooney, File)

2) Monica (Kaufman) Pearson- Born October 20, 1947, in Louisville. In earlier years, Kaufman grew up in the Smoketown neighborhood and attended Presentation Academy. Kaufman is a former UofL Cardinal but dropped out at 19-years-old. She worked several different jobs that led her to her career in Television. Kaufman was later hired at WHAS11as a reporter and news anchor for 3 years before being lured to Atlanta’s top station (WSB-TV) in the market. Kaufman made her debut in August 1975 and became Atlanta's first woman and first minority to anchor the daily 6 p.m. news. “When you turn on TV now, you can see someone like you no matter which channel you watch, whether it’s a Latino or an Asian or black or gay,” she told Phil Kloer in an interview for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Kids look at us and say, ‘I can do that.’ When I was growing up, I couldn’t say that cause there was no one that looked like me or talked like me.”-Pearson

Credit: Monica Kaufman-Pearson
Kaufman worked WHAS11 as a reporter and news anchor for 3 years before being lured to Atlanta’s top station (WSB-TV) in the market. Kaufman made her debut in August 1975 and became Atlanta's first woman and first minority to anchor the daily 6 p.m. news.

3) Bryson Tiller – Bryson is a Louisville native and Grammy-nominated rapper, born January 2, 1993, that gained national attention in 2011. Tiller’s debut solo album ‘Trapsoul’ reached number 8 on the Billboard 200 chart. In March 2016, Tiller received the key to the city from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. In the same year, he won two BET Awards for Best New Artist and Best Male R&B/Pop Artist. In May 2017, he released his second studio album ‘True to Self’ debuted number 1 on the Billboard 200. He was featured alongside Rihanna on a hit single ‘Wild Thoughts’ by DJ Khaled. In June 2017, Tiller also partnered with Nike, Inc. to provide a new Wyandotte Park for children and teens. In January 2018, Tiller performed "Wild Thoughts" with Rihanna and DJ Khaled at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards.

Tiller has never done a video interview and would prefer to be what he calls a “Shadowy Figure” 

Bryson Tiller

RELATED: Singer Bryson Tiller to attend Wyandotte Park ceremony, basketball clinic

RELATED: Louisville's own Bryson Tiller wins 2 BET Awards

4) Eastern Cemetery-  Known as the "The most over-buried cemetery in America".

Established in 1848, the Eastern Cemetery was chartered the same year as Cave Hill, but its problematic past has left it abandoned for decades.  The grounds were purchased by two Methodist Episcopal churches and used for burials by 1844. It hosted Louisville's first crematoriums. Louisville Crematories and Cemetery Corporation owned the cemetery by the late 1980s. 

Mass paupers' graves were used for burial in Eastern Cemetery. As of January 2017, the site has about 16,000 graves and documentation for about 138,000 bodies. The pauper's graves contribute to the imbalance.

According to Metro Councilman Brandon Coan, in 1989 a whistleblower lawsuit by someone who worked at the cemetery blew the top off. The owners had been reusing purchased gravesites. However, the abuse had been going on for literally 100 years. People were buried on top of one another. Graves were carelessly excavated for reuse, and medical cadaver body parts from the University of Louisville were buried in-mass rather than intact as it’s legally required for donated bodies. Human bones were found in inappropriate areas, including in a toolbox, a glove compartment, a fast food bag, and shallow graves. Some of the behavior had been practiced since the 1920s, and records indicate reuse began in 1858. 

WHAS11 cameras were there when an archeologist worked for weeks digging up the mass graves.  

RELATED: Group working to save Louisville cemetery left in ruin

The employees who did the digging were criminally charged with 60 counts of charges that included reuse of graves and abuse of corpses, but there were no legal consequences. 

"When the former company that owned the cemetery and abuse it was dissolved and the personnel all went away the cemetery kind of fell into a state of disrepair where nobody owned it. I don't believe it has a legal owner," Coan said. The property went untouched for more than 20 years. "The people who are buried here are the people who built this city and built this community into what it is for us so it’s our thought that the least we can do is honor the promise that was broken to them," Friends of Eastern Cemetery President Brandon Coan expressed.

Credit: Shay McAlister, WHAS11 News
Credit: Shay McAlister, WHAS11 News

5) Mattie Jones- is a Civil Rights Activist. She marched in Selma and worked alongside Dr. King. She said her life of activism began after she transferred from Indiana University to the University of Louisville after they desegregated the main campus. She credits being denied a work-study job because her white co-eds would not accept working alongside her with igniting her passion for activism. She dropped out of college and joined the Black Workers' Coalition. In the 60’s she marched against segregation in public schools and for open housing and credits the late Sen. Georgia Davis Powers, then a neighbor in the Parkland neighborhood, for inspiring her to get involved. Her environmental work helped pinpoint West Louisville for having the highest cancer rate. It started, she said, when people near Rubbertown began to fall ill. Through the Louisville Black Chamber of Commerce, she and Coleman worked to see a high percentage of minority-owned construction companies involved in the building of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium and the YUM! Center.

RELATED: 'If she can do it, she will': Civil rights activist Mattie Jones has taken in over 120 kids

RELATED: Mayor Greg Fischer honors pioneer Mattie Jones with the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award

 In 2018 in honor of Jones 85th birthday, two blocks of River Park Drive were honorarily designated as Mattie Jones Way. The route intersects Louis Coleman Jr. Drive, which Jones’ bio notes reflect “a meaningful reminder of all these two influential civil rights leaders accomplished together in Louisville and far beyond.” Mattie was honored with the 2020 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award.

RELATED: Mattie Jones honored for civil rights work

Credit: whas11
Mattie F. Jones Way

6)  Colonel Charles Young-Born March 12, 1864, into slavery in Mays Lick, Kentucky. Young is known to be an American soldier. Young is notably the third Black American that’s graduated the United States Military Academy, the first black U.S National Park Superintendent, and the first black military attache’.  Young is the first black man to achieve the rank of colonel on June 22, 1917, in the United States Army, the promotion came with the notification of his forced medical retirement from the Army. He appealed to the War Department and after waiting for a year for a reply, on June 6, 1918, he rode on horseback and walked 497 miles from Wilberforce, Ohio to Washington, DC to prove his fitness to be returned to active duty. He was returned to active duty on November 6, 1918. The War ended five days later with the signing of the Armistice. By keeping him out of the War, it denied him the opportunity of advancement to the rank of Brigadier General. Young died in 1922. He symbolizes the honor and dedication of Black Americans in the defense of this nation representing the Spanish American and World War 1 era. 

Credit: WHAS-TV
Col. Charles Young

RELATED: First black American U.S. Army colonel honored in Louisville

7)  Rajon Rondo- Born February 22, 1986, is currently an NBA Laker. Rondo played for the University of Kentucky under Tuby Smith. Drafted in 2006 as the 21 pick, Rondo began his professional career with the Phoenix Suns but was traded to the Boston Celtics. During his time with the Celtics, he set a franchise record for most assists in a playoff game. He was also tied with LeBron James with 6 career triple-doubles in the playoffs until James reached his seventh further on in the playoffs during Game 4 of the Finals. Rondo had the third bestselling jersey in the league during the 2010–11 season, behind only James and Kobe Bryant. Rondo was then traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 2014 then to the Sacramento Kings where he signed a one-year $10 million. In, 2016-2017 Rondo signed a two-year contract with the Chicago Bulls where after breaking his thumb in 2017, he was waived by the Bulls. Rondo went on to sign another year contract with the New Orleans Pelicans for $3.3 Million.  From 2018 until now Rondo signed a $9 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. Rondo became the first Laker to have at least 17 assists and five steals since Magic Johnson in December 1989. On July 18, 2019, Rondo resigned with the Lakers. 

Credit: Mike Lawrie, Getty Images
BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 14: Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics looks on after failing to take a shot as time expired against the Cleveland Cavaliers at TD Garden on November 14, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

8) Kentucky State University- Kentucky State University was Kentucky’s first HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and it’s located in the state’s capital, Frankfort. The HBCU was established in May 1886 and is noticeably has the state's most diverse population at a University. The university has about 30 majors to choose from. Most universities were predominately white and completely disqualified or limited black people’s enrollment.  Post slavery, many HBCU’s were located in the South. HBCUs were established before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of primarily serving the African-American community.

9)  Daniel Cameron- Born November 22, 1985, Daniel Cameron is known as Kentucky’s first black 51st Attorney General. He attended the University of Louisville. Cameron is a known republican and was endorsed by President Trump and recognized as a rising star in the republican party. Cameron became Kentucky's second African American statewide officer following Republican Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton who shared the 2015 gubernatorial ticket with Matt Bevin.

Credit: AP
In this Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019 file photo, Kentucky Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron makes his victory speech to the audience gathered at the Republican party celebration event in Louisville, Ky. Reaching across party lines, Democratic Gov.-elect Andy Beshear said Friday, Dec. 6, 2019 he'll appoint Republican Attorney General-elect Daniel Cameron to serve the final weeks of his term as Kentucky's top law enforcement officer. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

RELATED: Cameron becomes Kentucky's first African American AG

10) Jenean Hampton – Born May 12, 1958, Jenean Hampton is known as Kentucky’s 57th first black Republican Lieutenant Governor. Hampton served from December 2015-December 2019. Hampton also served in the United States Airforce rank Captain from 1985-1992.

Credit: AP
Kentucky Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton speaks to the spectators gathered on the steps of the Kentucky Capitol following her public swearing in ceremony, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Frankfort, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

RELATED: Ky. voters create historic firsts with Bevin, Hampton win

11) Public Law 99-244- On February 11, 1986, Congress passed Public Law 99-244 which established in February 1986 as National Black (African American) History Month thanks to Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson who is known as the pioneer behind the month and launched the celebration of Negro History Week in 1926. Carter was the son of former slaves who received a Bachelor of Letters Degree from Berea College. He is also the second black American after W.E.B. Dubois to obtain a PhD from Harvard University.

RELATED:Verify: Did Donald Trump change the name of Black History Month?

12) Garrett A. Morgan- Born March 4, 1877, Garrett is an inventor who originated a respiratory protective hood known as a smoke hood and like modern gas masks. He was born in Claysville, Harrison County which was an exclusively black community outside of Paris, Kentucky. Garrett is also credited for filing a patent for the traffic signal having a third warning position in 1922. Garrett passed in Cleveland, Ohio on July 27, 1963. 

Credit: Wikipedia
Most notable inventions were a three position traffic signal and a smoke hood notably used in a 1916 tunnel construction disaster rescue.

13) David Baker- Born: in Louisville, Ky. (1881 -1959), Baker is known for inventing scales that were used in elevators to prevent overloading. Baker oversaw the elevator in the Board of Trade Building in New Orleans, LA, for 10 years. He was also co-inventor of the streetcar transom opener in 1913, the high-water indicator for bridges in 1915, and a number of other inventions. He was the son of John B. Baker and the husband of Celena Le'Cleac. David Baker seems to have given a number of birth locations; in 1900, when he was boarding with the Vinet Clarisse family in Louisiana, he gave his and his parents' birth locations like Louisiana, and his birth date as of February 1881. He is listed in the census record as a mulatto. In the 1920 Census, he and his wife and child are listed as white, and their birth locations are given as France; the family may have been passing or the census taker got the information wrong. In the 1930 Census, both he and his wife's birth locations are listed as Alabama and they are listed as Negroes. In the 1940 Census, David Baker and his wife's birth location are given as Louisiana, and both are listed as Negroes. David Baker was listed in the 1937 city directory when he was employed as a janitor at the State Agriculture Association. On his WWII Draft Registration Card, David Baker gave New Orleans, LA, as his birth location, and his birth date as April 2, 1884. On his WWI Draft Registration Card, David Baker had given his birth date as April 2, 1879, and there was no birth location listed; he was a janitor at the Union League Building in Los Angeles. David Baker died in Los Angeles, California on March 20, 1959.

14)  Saint Elmo Brady- Born December 22, 1884, Saint was the first African-American to receive a doctorate in chemistry in the United States. He left home at age 20 to attend the all-black college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Brady then accepted a teaching position at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (Tuskegee University now) in Alabama. Both Booker T. Washington and the agricultural chemist George Washington Carver were Brady’s mentors. Elmo Brady also became the first African-American admitted to Phi Lambda Upsilon, the national chemistry honor society. Saint died on December 25, 1966.

Credit: Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives

15) Georgia Davis Powers- Georgia Montgomery was born in Jimtown which was a black community outside Springfield, Kentucky on October 19, 1923. Georgia attended Louisville’s Central High School and Simmons College. Georgia was the first person of color and woman to serve 21 years as a Kentucky State Democratic Senator. She was a leader in the movement to change what many considered the racially insensitive wording of the Kentucky State Song, My Old Kentucky Home, in 1986. She’s known as one of the most effective civil rights leaders in this state. In her autobiography, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky, Montgomery wrote that she had a personal relationship with Martin Luther King Jr. as a friend, trusted confidant, and lover. She also wrote that she was at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when King was assassinated in 1968. Some of King's associates questioned her account. In 2010, the Kentucky legislature renamed a portion of I-264 that runs through the West End of Louisville near Indiana junction the Georgia Davis Powers expressway. 

Credit: WHAS
Georgia Davis Powers
Credit: Courier-Journal

16. Derek Anderson: 

Louisville native and University of Kentucky alum played for UK 199-1997. Anderson was drafted by the Cleveland Cavilers in 1997 as the 13th overall draft pick in Round.

He also played for the NBA Miami Heat and won an NBA Championship in 2006. Anderson finished his career with the Charlotte Bobcats.

Credit: WHAS-TV
Former NBA and University of Kentucky star Derek Anderson

17. James ‘Jimmy’ Blythe: 

Born May 20, 1901,in Keene, Ky. James was an American jazz and boogie-woogie pianist and composer. Blythe is known to have recorded as many as 300 piano rolls, and his song "Chicago Stomp" is considered one of the earliest examples of boogie-woogie music to be recorded.

18. Mae Street Kidd-Mae Street Kidd was born Feb 8,1904-1999 in Millersburg, Kentucky to a black mother and white father. Kidd became active in the Civil Rights movement in Louisville, Ky. And founded the Louisville Urban League Guild in 1948. Kidd has served on the House of Representatives from 1968 to 1984 representing the 41st District. She’s also notably known to have sponsored legislation that provided open and low-income housing in Kentucky.

Credit: Ky.Gov


This story will be updated throughout the month.

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