Louisville’s Olmstead parks are one of the jewels of our community. Today we enjoy them without regard to their segregated past.
Two African-Amercian teachers attempted to spend the day with their students at Iroquois Park in 1924 and were met by an angry mob.
From the Courier-Journal, June 14, 1924:
According to George C. Wright, historian and author of Life Behind a Veil: Blacks in Louisville, Kentucky, 1865–1930 the visit was without incident until the group went to the bus stop to leave. There they were met by park security guards and a group of about 100 white people. When they were told they weren’t allowed to use the park, the teachers said they had no idea such an ordinance against blacks using the park existed. The guards placed both women under arrest and handled them roughly. The guards later said that the near riot was the result of the women resisted arrest and struck one of the officers.
The bus came to pick them up, and the bus driver was sympathetic to the women. He assured them that the children would get back to downtown Louisville at their intended drop-off place. The teachers were taken in a squad car to the nearest police precinct, but the officer in charge of the precinct wanted nothing to do with the situation and refused to take the teachers. The officers drove the women around for several hours as local precincts turned them away.
By the time they reached police headquarters, a large black crowd had gathered in protest. Albert E. Meyzeek, leader of the Louisville Urban League (and the guy for whom Meyzeek Middle School is named), warned the Louisville mayor, “Negroes are not going to stand for park segregation any more than they stood for residential segregation.”
The NAACP in Louisville was inactive at the time, but it was reactivated several days later.
The school board sent the women letters demanding that they go before the board and “show why you should not be summarily dismissed for inciting the races to riot.”
From July 2, 1924:
The highlight is mine. Ugh.
They defended their jobs at the June 24 meeting of the Board of Education and were severely reprimanded. They were allowed to keep their jobs, but the Board said anyone else involved in such an incident would be “enemies of the social order” and will be dismissed. The Board said they could have left the park without engaging in a heated discussion with the park guards. That’s not likely true, but we can’t tell from here.
Naomi Anthony was found guilty in court and charged $10 ($143 in today’s money), and charges against Margaret Taylor were dismissed.
On July 4, 1924, a group of black leaders wrote a letter to the editor of the Courier-Journal:
Louisville’s parks weren’t integrated until around 1964, so these women were way ahead of their time. That just goes to show how brave they were! Being harassed by an angry mob of white people must have been terrifying.
These women should be better known in Louisville and Kentucky. Do you use Iroquois Park? Have you heard of this incident before?