University of Louisville's Archives and Special Collections has material that helps tell the story of Black business enterprise in Louisville.
In these oral histories, Black Louisvillians tell the stories of their lives as business people. They describe success as well as struggle, and give a sense of what it took to "make it" in business in 20th century Louisville. Click on the "listen to the interview" links to hear their voices and read their words.
Goldie Beckett discusses her life as well as her husband's experiences as an Alderman in the city of Louisville in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Beckett briefly describes her early life and education, including her graduation from Kentucky State College. Mrs. Beckett had a career in education, but also worked with her husband, and for her brother, in the undertaking business in Louisville. She speaks of the Walnut Street area before Urban Renewal. Beckett's husband, William Washington Beckett, was elected Alderman in 1951 and served until 1961. In this time, he played a role in the integration of the fire and police departments, the parks, and public accommodations, and in developing a Human Relations Commission. Goldie Beckett discusses her husband's contributions and the civil rights movement in general (both in Louisville and more generally)
A nursery owner and local historian from Louisville, Kentucky, Nelson Goodwin talks about his career in the nursery business. He also discusses his ancestors and other African Americans who lived in the Petersburg / Newburg area. He describes the relationships of various African Americans with white enslavers, and the efforts Blacks made to build their community following slavery. He describes his own efforts to develop his community through the location of library in Newburg and the Petersburg Historical Society's programs, as well as his fight against urban renewal.
Joseph Hammond, a small business owner and real estate agent, discusses his childhood, education and life as a young adult living and working in Louisville. He talks about being a small business owner, the impact of urban renewal on the Black business district, Small Business Administration loans, and his belief in the potential of young people in his community. He describes the opportunities of Black real estate agents, talks about busing, gives his views on affordable housing for low-income families and concludes the interview with a discussion of his desire for greater participation by African Americans in community development.
Born to Tal and Laura Moorman in Daviess County, Kentucky, Frank Moorman, Sr., came to Louisville in 1926 to rejoin his former employer, Dr. White, at his new drugstore in the Mammoth Building. Moorman later opened a drugstore with Dr. J.C. McDonald on the corner of Sixth and Walnut. He later opened a service station at Eighth and Walnut; this station became Frank's Super Service. Moorman discusses his grandparents and parents in the Buckhorn community in Daviess County, the evolution of his business, his feelings on the civil rights movement and race relations. (This image of Frank Moorman is from the Louisville Defender Photographs Collection, image number 06892.)
Woodford Porter served as the chairman of the board of trustees of the University of Louisville at the time of this interview. He discusses his family's business, A.D. Porter Funeral Home, his father's involvement in politics and his years on the Louisville Board of Education. His life and family history are also included in this interview. (This image of Woodford Porter is from Archives & Special Collections Biographical Reference files.)
The personal and family papers of Black businesspeople, as well as the records of their businesses, provide powerful documentary evidence of their endeavors, entrepreneurial spirit, and community consciousness.
Examples of materials and collections are given below, but be sure to check out our page on Louisville's Black newspapers. We have collections from the Louisville Leader and the Louisville Defender, which document the papers as businesses in and of themselves while providing information about other local Black businesses in their news stories and photographs.
The National Negro Business League
In 1909, the National Negro Business League met in Louisville. The program from this meeting is full of photographs and includes advertisements from all sorts of Black-owned businesses. The full NNBL program is available online from the Internet Archive.
Smith/McGill Family Papers
The Smith/McGill Family Papers include a roster and correspondence relating to the Falls City Chamber of Commerce. The undated membership roster reproduced below lists at least 60 men and women, many of them business owners. The list features printers, pharmacists, undertakers, realtors, service station owners, restauranteurs, and more, Many of these businesses were located on Walnut Street (now Muhammad Ali Boulevard), the heart of the Black business district.
The Falls City Chamber of Commerce roster is part of the Smith/McGill Family papers, held by the University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections. More information about this collection is available in the detailed description of the Smith-McGill Family papers.
The Smith/McGill Family papers also include information about two important Louisville enterprises: Mammoth Insurance and Domestic Insurance.
In its day, Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company was the largest Black-owned company in Kentucky, and one of the 100-largest Black-owned companies in the United States.
This image, from Archives and Special Collections Caufield and Shook Studio collection (image number 217678), shows the Mammoth building, including the adjacent Lyric Theater.
Domestic Life Insurance, located at the corner of 6th and West Walnut. This photograph, part of the Caufield and Shook Studio collection (image number 200049), was taken in 1944.