The Ongoing Struggle


After 1970 the freedom struggle operated in a changing and in many ways increasingly hostile environment.  White resistance to further government action for racial equality ignited grassroots campaigns against the growing black presence in the work place and schools.  The focus of such protest was on court-ordered busing for school integration.  Conservative politicians tapped into that widespread white discontent to pursue a broader anti-government and anti-reform agenda.  Worsening economic times reinforced this conservative trend.  At the same time, however, black leaders persevered in their quest for the enforcement of equal opportunity through Affirmative Action, improvement in police-community relations, and the strengthening of black political power.  Other groups who had likewise lacked social power—Latinos, women, disabled people, gays and lesbians—adopted the ideas and methods of the civil rights era for their own struggles.  The result was, in some respects, a broader freedom movement, but one that was on the defensive in an increasingly conservative political climate-- and thus subject to frequent misunderstandings among those who might wish to be allies



By the 1980s, African Americans were visibly integrated into Louisville’s public life even as dramatic racial inequities persisted.  Campaigns for African American equality continued well after the passage of civil rights laws in the 1960s.  Yet when it came to enforcement of those laws, the issues struck uncomfortably close to home for many white Louisvillians.  True equity and power in jobs, housing, schools, and electoral politics generated more controversy than had the simple and direct plea for seats at a lunch counter.  When more than a decade of school desegregation failed to achieve equal access for African Americans, Louisville-Jefferson County became in 1975 one of many school districts nationally in which courts ordered widespread busing in search of racial fairness.  White mobs and a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan resulted, but a biracial coalition of activists, moderates, and elected officials steadily built support for busing, and the school plan continued past the expiration of the busing order and into the 21st century with widespread community support.  Experts assessed the local schools as the nation’s most desegregated in 2003, but further court actions in 2007 curtailed the use of pupil assignment to achieve racial integration.

The civil rights movement of the post-WWII era gave rise to many other social justice movements in the final third of the twentieth century.  New movements adopted its tactics of nonviolent direct action and mass protest, and hundreds of young people who had gained organizing skills while demanding an end to racial segregation then applied their know-how to issues such as gender equality, disability rights and ending many other forms of discrimination.   In the 1990s, a local movement called “Fairness” drew together strands of the older civil rights community to end discrimination based on sexuality as part of a wider vision of social and racial freedom.  Meanwhile, leaders like Rev. Louis Coleman—an outspoken African American minister--  kept racial fairness in the public spotlight into the 21st century, agitating and mobilizing rallies for an end to police violence and environmental racism and for the equitable hiring of minorities by the state.


Selected Sources

Chalmers, David.  And the Crooked Places Made Straight: The Struggle for Social Change in the

1960s.  Baltimore:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Cummings, Scott, and Michael Price.  Race Relations in Louisville: Southern Racial

Traditions and Northern Class Dynamics.@  Louisville, KY: Urban Research

Institute Policy Paper Series, June 1990.

Durr, Kenneth.  Behind the Backlash: White Working Class Politics in Baltimore, 1940-

  1. 1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Formisano, Ronald P.  Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s

and 1970s.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd.  The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the

Past.  Journal of American History 91 (March 2005): 1233-63.

K’Meyer, Tracy E. Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky, 1945-

1980 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009).

Lynne, Jack.  Schoolhouse Dreams Deferred: Decay, Hope and Desegregation in a Core-

City School System.  Phi Deltap kappa International, 1998.

Maclean, Nancy.  Freedom in Not Enough: The Opening of the American Workplace.

New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006.

Minchin, Timothy J.  From Rights to Economics: The Ongoing Struggle for Black

Equality in the US South.  Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007.

Rosen, Ruth.  The World Split Open: How the Modern Women's Movement Changed America.

New York:  Penguin revised, 2006.