Note: This original one-on-one interview, part of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky Oral History Project, was produced by the Kentucky Oral History Commission and Historical Society.
Raoul Cunningham was born in 1943 and began working for civil rights at age 14. He helped register voters as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council. His first protest action was picketing Louisville’s Brown Theater, which would not honor the tickets of young black students who wanted to see the opera “Porgy and Bess.”
Cunningham recruited other young people to the cause and, after careful planning, they began picketing numerous downtown Louisville lunch counters and restaurants that refused to serve African-Americans. Their “Nothing New for Easter” shopping boycott paved the way for black customers to be able to try on clothes in downtown Louisville stores.
Cunningham moved to Washington, D.C., to attend Howard University. As a student there, he continued in civil rights work by organizing a Young Democrats chapter. He was also president of the District of Columbia Federation of College Young Democrats, and vice president of the Young Democrats Club of America.
When he returned to Louisville, Cunningham managed the successful campaign to elect Georgia Davis Powers to the Kentucky Senate. He has been involved in government and politics ever since, weaving civil rights, nonviolence, and better-government issues into his efforts to get more people who are committed to racial justice into the electoral process.