Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Anne and Carl Braden

The Kentucky branch of the American Civil Liberties Union was formally organized in 1955, as fear of the Soviet Union ran rampant throughout the United States. Kentucky had elected officeholders who hunted alleged Communists under every bed, imagined sedition in every quiet corner, and idolized U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The founders of the ACLU of Kentucky—a coalition of labor unionists, social activists, African-American professionals, and others—saw its mission as protecting civil liberties from an overzealous government.

The sedition trial of Anne and Carl Braden dominated the ACLU’s first decade in the state. The husband-and-wife Louisville civil rights activists had agreed to buy a house in an all-white neighborhood and then sell it to the African-American Andrew Wade family. When the house was bombed, Carl Braden criticized the local police for not finding the culprit. He was tried for sedition, with ACLU volunteer attorney Louis Lusky defending him and opponents attempting to tie housing integration efforts to a Communist conspiracy. He was convicted, but the conviction was overturned on appeal—after Braden had spent seven months in federal prison. (Anne later told the story of the trial and its aftermath in her book The Wall Between, the September 2000 selection of bookclub@ket.)

Anne and Carl Braden went on to become field organizers for the Southern Conference Educational Fund. Started in 1946 during the New Deal/World War II era of economic reform, the SCEF soon became a single-issue group dedicated to building Southern support for racial integration, especially among whites. Though heavily targeted by Red-baiters because it never excluded Communists, the SCEF managed to survive McCarthyism and connect with the mass civil rights movement that burst forth in 1960. In 1966, the now notorious Bradens became the organization’s executive directors and moved its headquarters to Louisville, where the SCEF developed a local base and broadened its focus to include antiwar and economic-justice campaigns.

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