Living the Story: The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky
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Open Housing Ordinances and Local Efforts

Efforts by African Americans to move into predominantly white neighborhoods were a source of great strife during the civil rights era, and true residential integration has not been fully realized even today. But beginning in the mid-1960s, Kentucky localities did begin to pass laws prohibiting outright segregation in housing. Bardstown and Nelson County were the first Kentucky communities to pass open housing laws, in 1966-67. Bowling Green, Covington and Kenton County, and Lexington and Fayette County followed suit later in 1967.

Meanwhile, efforts to secure a local ordinance in Louisville had attracted considerable opposition. Both sides held marches and protests, some of which resulted in bloodshed and arrests. In 1963, a group of women, some black and some white, formed the West End Community Council to work toward peaceful integration.

Louisville’s West End was in transition, with black families beginning to move into a previously all-white area. The founders of the WECC hoped to discourage the “white flight” that usually followed and thus create an integrated neighborhood. They went door-to-door encouraging white families to stay, conducted surveys on racial attitudes, and sponsored annual arts festivals in the local parks. In 1967, they helped to organize and lead an open housing movement, which succeeded in securing a city open housing ordinance. In 1970, Jefferson County finally passed a countywide ordinance. With membership down to 40 (from a high of 400), the WECC decided to disband.

On a state level, the Kentucky Fair Housing Act was introduced by Sen. Georgia Davis Powers in the Senate and by Reps. Mae Street Kidd and Hughes McGill in the House in 1968. Many observers thought the bill had little chance of passage, and it did encounter stiff opposition. But it passed on the final day of the session and became law without Gov. Louie Nunn’s signature. The act, first of its kind to be passed in the South, allows individuals who believe they have been discriminated against in housing to appeal to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights for adjudication.

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