New life being given to Louisville's Civil Rights Trail - WDRB 41 Louisville News

New life being given to Louisville's Civil Rights Trail

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's a trail in Louisville.

It's not for bikes or bourbon, yet it's still part of the fabric that shapes our community.

Muhammad Ali and 4th Street is currently the home of Embassy Suites and CVS Pharmacy, but in 1961 the spot was home to Stewart's Dry Goods Company, the most prestigious department store in Louisville. On February 9, 1961, it was also the birthplace of a civil rights movement.

That's sort of where the war took place," said Deanna Tinsley, a civil rights demonstrator. "Stewart's was a beautiful store and we were allowed to go in that store, but we couldn't try on anything. It was very demeaning--very demeaning to know that you were thought of as less than."

Tinsley was one of a handful of young African-American high school students who on that fateful February day staged a protest in the department store's restaurant.

"Our strategy was to stand in line, go to the counter and ask to be seated and if that person was denied, then that person would go to the end of the line and we would continue. And we stayed there until the police were called," Tinsley remembers.

The efforts of a few students rallied a few thousand African-Americans and sparked an economic boycott known as "No New Clothes for Easter."

They staged sit-ins at segregated shops on 4th Street.

The movement marked one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s first trips to Louisville in the 1960's. Dr. King's brother was pastor of a local church.

Two hundred Louisville stores opened their doors to blacks and within two years the city had become the first in the nation to pass a public accommodation law.

"People don't know," Tinsley said. "They don't know why 4th Street changed, so the markers help to educate."

The Civil Rights Trail includes 11 stops on 4th Street with markers placed at former business locations where demonstrations took place.

It was a passion project for late U of L professor J. Blaine Hudson.

It's been two years since its inception.

"There was some public works taking place at 4th and Guthrie and the marker was removed and it was laying there for quite some time and it eventually caused a huge public outcry," said Theresa Rajack-Talley, Associated Dean of U of L's College of Arts and Sciences.

"It's extremely important because some people think of these markers as symbolic, but we think of it as a documentation of our public history," Rajack-Talley said.

Some people are now questioning if history is repeating itself.

Once again, 4th Street is at the center of racial tension. A class action lawsuit accuses the owners of the downtown entertainment area of discriminating against blacks.

"The markers say 'Hey, don't quit.' They say 'Keep this in mind, that there are things to improve around here'." Tinsley said.

City officials plan to re-dedicate the Civil Rights Trail and all 11 markers at a ceremony on September 21 here at 4th and Guthrie. It's set to take place at 5:45 p.m.

Organizers say they hope the public knows that bourbon is not the only notable trail in Louisville.

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