Suzy Post, 1933-2019
Louisville lost a powerful voice for social justice this week with the death of Suzy Post at age 85 on January 1. We at the Braden Institute mourn her passing and celebrate all she stood for over more than 60 years of excoriating racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, war, poverty, and homophobia in our community.
Suzy was a tiny woman, but she was a powerhouse when it came to “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” as her friend Anne Braden liked to say.
Suzy was Jewish, and it was her experience as a girl during and after WWII of watching newsreels with footage showing death camps like those at Auschwitz that first piqued her social conscience in the direction of race. By 16 she had made the connection between the genocide of Jews and the unrelenting discrimination of Blacks in the United States.
Whoever said that studying the humanities isn’t radicalizing? When Suzy returned to Louisville in the mid-1950s with a Master’s degree in English after a stint on the UC Berkeley campus, the racism she saw here wasn’t pretty. She arrived home at the close of the televised trial of Carl Braden after he and Anne had bought a house in a white neighborhood for Andrew and Charlotte Wade, who were Black. Segregationists dynamited the house and ran the Wades out, but it was the Bradens who faced sedition charges—and 15 years’ imprisonment— in those fearful years of anti-communist hysteria.
The Bradens were socially committed people but they were also pariahs when Suzy met them, and Anne Braden always credited Suzy with convincing other local progressives to stop ostracizing and demonizing them. Suzy got active in the ACLU of Kentucky, and by the 1980s she became its director, an outspoken feminist who steered that organization into many of the stands it takes today.
Although historians of race know her as an “icon of the civil rights struggle,” too many young local activists haven’t even heard of Suzy Post’s witness for justice in Louisville. Without Suzy, we might not have a Metropolitan Housing Coalition, and we almost certainly would not have the widespread awareness we know today of the persistence of housing discrimination or of how central to equality is the availability of fair and affordable housing to all.
Of equal significance was Suzy’s courage in confronting segregated schools. In 1972 she had four school-age children. She became the sole white plaintiff to join the lawsuit condemning the utter discrimination that characterized local public schools. She and her family took heat for that stand, yet her willingness to step out helped bring about the 1975 busing decision that led to our local schools becoming among the most diverse in the nation. She reflected on that decision in 2017.
We still have a long way to go to end housing discrimination and achieve school equity, but Suzy helped forge a path to those goals. Intersectional-minded white anti-racists can take special inspiration from her determination. It never faltered, and she called our community to task on many issues over the next decades. Local journalists have written tributes to Suzy (see them here). For scholars who want a fuller overview of her unrelenting activism, check out the interview with her in the Journal of the Study of Radicalism. May Suzy Post’s spirit move us on!