Retro Louisville: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visits Louisville

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visited Louisville numerous times during the 1960s and the Courier Journal chronicled his various speeches and marches.  Reporter Martha Elson, in a 2015 retro article, listed King’s appearances here beginning in 1960 when he spoke before 9,000 at a voter registration rally at the old Armory (now known as Louisville Gardens).

Elson noted King’s address before the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 19, 1961, and perhaps his most high-profile event, the "March on Frankfort," March 5, 1964.  In 1966, King, and his father, Martin Luther King Sr., attended Zion Baptist Church, 2200 W Muhammad Ali Blvd., where the Rev. A. D. Williams King — brother of Martin Luther King Jr. — was installed as pastor. And, the Courier Journal provided extensive coverage of King’s visit in March 1967 as part of an "Open Housing" initiative.

On Thursday, March 30, 1967, King spoke to law students at the University of Louisville, then later that evening, he was at a civil rights rally at West Chestnut Street Baptist Church (1725 W. Chestnut Street) where he said:  "We aren't going to achieve our freedom sitting around waiting for it. Let us stand up in Louisville and say to the power structure that our movement is just beginning.

"Don't stop," he said, until the city "is willing to put something on paper (for) a fair open-housing law."

After his speech, King heard that eighteen demonstrators had been arrested at an Open Housing event at Memorial Auditorium. He and several hundred followers then departed on buses from the church to Fourth and Breckinridge where the arrests occurred.  King, saying "we still have our marching shoes," and then led a protest march to Police Headquarters.

In a related article, Third District Rep. William O. Cowger said he "favors a Federal Open Housing Law ... There should be a uniform regulation across the nation." The Louisville Republican said Congress, not local governments, should deal with the open housing problem.

"I have always been in favor of open housing," he said, in an obvious reference to King’s local activism. “I would hope that those who came in from outside to aggravate the problem would go elsewhere."

One smaller article on page A-18 of the March 31, 1967, Courier Journal, which probably few noticed at the time due to all the other King-related articles in the newspaper that day, but in retrospect was especially poignant, was coverage of King’s wife, Coretta Scott King, who visited here with him.

Vanguard of the civil -rights marchers included , from left, the Rev. Olof Anderson, Louisville; 13-year old Sherman McAlpin, Louisville; Dr. Martin Luther King; the Rev. Wyatt Walker, executive-secretary of the southern Christian Leadership Conference; the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. D. E. King, and Frank Stanley, Jr. Former baseball player Jackie Robinson is behind Abernathy and to right. By Larry Spitzer, The Courier-Journal

Staff writer Sally Bly interviewed Coretta Scott King, noting she normally did not travel with her husband. Bly provided a nice bio of her life, musical background and how she met Martin.

At the end of that report, was this ominous concluding text: "Realizing her husband is performing a dangerous job, Mrs. King said she doesn't feel she has any unusual fear for him. 'You get accustomed to it and learn to live with it.' she said. 'We realize that even in the North something could happen. He's not really safe any place.' But 'in this kind of involvement, you feel the cause is just and you go on with assurance in your own commitment,' she said. 'You accept the danger as part of the necessary cost of your convictions.'"

Just over a year later, April 4, 1968, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s young life would end at age 39 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Steve Wiser, FAIA, is a local historian, author, and architect

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Retro Louisville: The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. visits Louisville