Tips for Black Travelers to Louisville
In its role as Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville has an enticing mix of big-city bustle and small-town charm, making it a great place for visitors to explore. Black people have long played a role in the history of the city and are at the forefront of its exciting future.
For Black travelers interested in exploring Derby City, there are a multitude of great attractions, from theme parks and zoos to America’s largest urban forest and the world’s only fully underground zip lines. There are a number of experiences that highlight the vibrancy of Louisville’s Black community, including must-see historical sites, delicious Black-owned restaurants to savor and, of course, Kentucky Bourbon. Check out these tips as you plan your next trip to Louisville:
Get the Unfiltered Truth
Many cities, especially in the South, have struggled to reconcile the complicated history of their creation and growth alongside the immense impact African Americans played in their development. Louisville is meeting this challenge head on with its Unfiltered Truth Collection, a series of eight immersive experiences that explore the Black history, heritage and culture that makes Louisville what it is today.
Travelers can learn more about the unlikely rise of Louisville’s own Mary Ann Fisher in the world of rhythm and blues in Songbird of the South, a one-woman show at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. You can also hear the stories and see the artifacts brought by the first enslaved people to arrive in the city from West Africa at The Sankofa Experience exhibit in the Roots 101 African American Museum.
Explore The Greatest’s Legacy
Perhaps no individual person is more associated with Louisville than The Greatest, heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, who was born and raised in the city and considered it his home as he traveled the globe. You can explore several key landmarks in the life and times of Ali on a self-guided tour, including his childhood home, his high school, Freedom Hall, home to Ali’s first professional bout, and his final resting place at Cave Hill Cemetery.
The Muhammad Ali Center is a six-story, 24,000-square foot multicultural center and museum in Louisville dedicated both to the boxer’s extraordinary life and humanitarian work, but also designed to inspire visitors to follow Ali’s principles in their own lives. Don’t miss the replica Schwinn bike on display – the original was stolen from a young Cassius Clay. When he asked a police officer to help him find it, the officer steered the 12-year-old to a boxing gym where he worked, changing the course of history.
Support Black-owned business
Many aspiring Black entrepreneurs call Louisville home and their efforts have led to a burgeoning business scene throughout the city. You can help support their work by shopping and eating at these establishments. Fans of authentic Southern food won’t be disappointed with the many options found in Louisville. Lucretia’s Kitchen and Dasha Barbour’s Southern Bistro are two Black-owned restaurants that draw raves from customers.
For other shopping needs, MELANnaire Marketplace is a pop-up shopping bazaar featuring 30 black-owned businesses in various categories. The marketplace alternates between Louisville’s Fourth Street Live and Manhattan on Broadway. Using the directory from Black Owned Louisville is a great way to plan ahead if you want to put together a shopping and eating itinerary.
Listen to the Experts
There is no one right way for Black travelers to experience Louisville. With so many pockets of history and heritage to explore, each trip can unearth different experiences. However, some of the best advice for exploring a new city comes from the people who have experienced all facets of their hometown. The Quintessential Black Experience in Louisville blog is written by members of the city’s Black Tourism Advisory Council, who represent seven facets of the hospitality industry – attractions, hotels, restaurants, retail, transportation, venues and arts.
The blog, which is updated quarterly with a new interview, lets you check in with some of the city’s most plugged in people as they discuss some of their favorite places to visit, hidden gems, top restaurants, outdoor activities and cultural events, like WorldFest and the Historic Louisville Holiday Home Tour.
Swing into Sports
Louisville is serious about their sports – you know about Muhammad Ali’s importance, but that’s just one aspect of how sporting life has touched the city. Louisville is home to the Kentucky Derby, another major event on the sporting calendar, and one that has its roots in Black history. You can take the Black Heritage in Racing tour at the Kentucky Derby Museum and learn about the key role African Americans played in the history of horse racing, including jockeys who won 15 of the event’s first 28 races.
Louisville is also serious about baseball, and at the Louisville Slugger bat factory, you can learn more about a pre-Negro Leagues team in the city that dominated all comers in the early 1900s before seemingly being lost to the ages. If you’re visiting in the spring, take in a Triple-A Louisville Bats game to catch major league prospects one step away from The Show.
Honor a Bourbon Pioneer
Of course, it’s hard to imagine a trip to Louisville without enjoying one of the city’s biggest products, bourbon. The city and the spirit have been tied together since the 18th century, and you can explore the Bourbon District downtown for a walkable tour of six bourbon distillers. For years, the contributions of African Americans have been left out of the bourbon story, but that is beginning to change.
At the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, you can learn about The Ideal Bartender, Louisville native Tom Bullock, the first Black American to write and publish a cocktail book. This recreation allows you to “meet” Bullock and learn about his life and legacy while getting to taste some of his creations. For a modern take on the spirit, you can visit Brough Brothers Distillery, the first Black-owned distillery in the state.
Written by Elliott Smith
January 17, 2022