72 Hours in the Heart of Louisville's African American Community
Louisville has always been at the center of the storied history of African Americans in this country.
It sat at the crossroads of the Underground Railroad as a slave state bordering the free states of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Freed blacks developed numerous communities here encompassing churches, retail stores, medical offices, barber and beauty shops, theaters, hotels, and other entities after the end of slavery in 1865.
And by 1900, Louisville was home to one of the nation’s largest African American populations.
That wealth of history is still evident today, making Louisville a unique and outstanding travel destination for those interested in African American history and related cultural sites.
Come along for a brief yet exciting 72-hour sojourn through the African American community in Louisville - the “Gateway to the South.”
One of Louisville's, in fact Kentucky's, world renowned claims to fame is the Kentucky Derby. But it’s more than just a race that made its debut in 1875. It’s part of the legacy of a great many African Americans who made their mark in the thoroughbred racing industry here.
One of the most prominent aspects at the Kentucky Derby Museum is the Black Heritage in Racing gallery. Through oral histories, photography, artifacts, and more, visitors learn about African American jockeys like James “Soup” Perkins, Jimmy Winkfield, and William Walker. And, that 15 of the first 28 Derbies were won by these and other black jockeys. Moreover, African Americans also worked behind the scenes as exercise riders, groomers, and trainers, among other important roles.
Step inside history at this incredible one-of-a-kind destination where sport racing and black history come to life.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Farmington Historic Plantation is a notable farm and homestead where scores of enslaved African Americans lived and worked for one of Louisville’s most prominent families in the early 1800s - the Speeds.
Oral histories shared by descendants of those slaves, Speed family letters, court records, and other memorabilia provide an in-depth, up-close-and-personal look at the agricultural and social life here, and how that history influenced the Louisville we find today.
One of Louisville’s “must visit” destinations is the Muhammad Ali Center.
Located downtown along the Ohio waterfront, this multifaceted center was co-founded by the late great boxer and his wife, Lonnie. But don’t expect that it simply illuminates Ali’s distinguished boxing career. The experience here goes far deeper.
In addition to a global sports icon, Ali was also a prolific philanthropist and humanitarian who steadfastly lived by the core principles of spirituality, confidence, giving, conviction, respect, and dedication.
These values are evident throughout the award-winning interactive exhibit and gallery spaces chocked full of multimedia features, artifacts, historical videos, and other elements dispersed among several timelines of Ali’s life. Together they aptly demonstrate how he dramatically and profoundly impacted so many aspects of life—socially, politically, culturally, and more—in the U.S. and abroad.
Spanning approximately 63,000 square feet on the site of an historic trolley barn complex, the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage plays a very important role in sharing the cultural contributions, heritage, and history African Americans have made in the Bluegrass State as well as throughout the African Diaspora.
It’s important to note that the Center is not just a museum, rather a rich repository of priceless artifacts and memorabilia, enhanced via interactive exhibits, photography, works of art, and other elements. These features are peppered across several themed “alleyways” of black history, including the Civil Rights Movement and the Civil War, among others.
Throughout the year visitors can also enjoy a host of performing and visual arts performances relative to the black experience here.
One of my favorite things to do when visiting any city is to check out the culinary scene. Louisville offers some of the tastiest adventures you can imagine!
From traditional southern fare, to steak and seafood, Italian, Greek, Japanese, vegetarian and vegan eats—and everything in between—it’s no wonder the city is recognized as “the Culinary Capital of Bourbon Country.”
Within that amalgamation of gastronomic goodness there are numerous black owned and/or managed eateries all over town that are ready, willing, and able to satisfy your every gourmet desire.
Want to get your ‘que on? Then your first stop may be at Louisville Smokers BBQ.
Start with the wings—small or large, depending on your appetite—then work your way up to the rib tips - succulent and fall-off-the-bone delicious!
If you fancy juicy sausage links, try the polish or beef franks, both of which can be topped with green peppers and onions. Add to that a bevy of side dishes like mac and cheese, green beans, pineapple slaw, baked and green beans, and potato salad and you’ll be in barbecue heaven.
And don’t forget to leave room for dessert!
At Kizito Cookies you’ll find some fantastic after meal treats (or have them before – life’s too short, eat dessert first!).
For starters their cookies are baked in delicious flavors like snickerdoodle, pumpkin chocolate chip, peanut butter, and a special “Lucky in Kentucky” loaded with dark and white chocolate and crispy pecans in every bite.
Cranberry orange, banana bran, and blueberry are the muffin options, while pistachio, white macadamia nut, ginger, and almond are among the biscotti selections.
If brownies are your thing, Kizito offers four different varieties. They also have a special granola made with oats, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, cinnamon, agave nectar, brown sugar, and canola oil to enjoy as a morning cereal with milk or anytime snack.
In addition to their main bakery on Bardstown Road, you can also find their sweet treats at several dozen retail and entertainment establishments dotted around the city.
These are just a few of the many outstanding soulful eateries in Louisville.
More Black Louisville
For more information about sights, attractions, restaurants, and more of Afrocentric interest in the city, be sure to stop by the Louisville Visitor Center.
Written by Lysa Allman-Baldwin
January 17, 2022