Access to housing opportunities in Louisville has been, and continues to be, shaped by racist policies and racist ideas that constitute a system of practice limiting opportunities for Black residents and other people of color, while simultaneously benefitting white people. Collectively, these practices not only restricted access to safe, fair, and affordable housing opportunities for Black Louisvillians, but also actively destroyed Black land, businesses, and associated wealth and disrupted Black access to resources and services. Residential racial segregation and housing discrimination are not unique to Louisville and are reflective of a larger system of white supremacy that pervades national policy frameworks, maintaining racial inequities. However, Louisville’s history is marked by specific events that influenced the ways in which patterns of racial segregation manifested in the city, including the landmark 1917 Supreme Court decision, Buchanan v. Warley, outlawing race-based zoning ordinances, and the 1954 dynamiting of a Black family – the Wade’s – home in a racist attack during desegregation efforts tied to the work of Carl and Anne Braden, among other examples. (A 1989 oral history with Andrew Wade is available at Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History website.)
Federal policies like redlining, which systematically denied mortgage insurance to Black households, and urban renewal, which displaced thousands of poor Black residents through the demolition of neighborhoods and business districts, worked alongside actions in the private sector including racially exclusionary covenants that did not allow the sale of homes to Black households, all of which collectively shaped racially segregated housing patterns that persist into the present day. The archival materials presented below highlight the narrative of Louisville’s history of racist housing policies and practices, including the construction of racially segregated federal public housing projects in the aftermath of the destruction of neighborhoods and displacement of communities. However, they also reveal resistance to and organizing among the Black community and white allies to fight against racist housing policies and discriminatory practices.
From 1940-1944, Earl Pruitt managed Louisville’s Beecher Terrace Housing Project, which was at the time the largest housing project in Kentucky. He was also involved nationally with campaigns to improve low-income housing, and was involved with the National Association of Housing Officials, Louisville Municipal Housing Commission, the Governor's Commission on Education Desegregation, and other groups focused on equitable housing. In 1945, Pruitt traveled to England as a public housing expert and gave a lecture on the radio, the text of which is available below. Researchers working with the Earl E. Pruitt papers will find information pertaining to Beecher Terrace as well as general information related to public housing. Find more information about the Earl E. Pruitt papers by visiting the catalog record.
The Louisville Defender, a local Black newspaper founded in 1933, is an excellent resource for researching Black life in Louisville. The following short video combines clippings from the Louisville Defender with select excerpts from oral histories by Adlene Abstain and Carla Wallace housed in Archives and Special Collection's Oral History Center.
The Oral History Center includes two series specifically on housing within Louisville, Home for Us All: Housing in Louisville & Jefferson County and A Home is not a House. Additional interviews outside of those series also discuss housing: see oral histories by Urban Axman, Lloyd Alexander, and Adelene Abstain.