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Tracy K'Meyer: Like I said we have some of your basic biographical information from when you were interviewed before, for example, on a previous interview, you told me about your father a little bit. I did want to ask just a few basic questions. You didn't say much about your mother's family, could you tell me a little bit about your mother's family? What your mother did before your parents. . . .?

Woodford Porter: I really don't know a whole lot, yet I know something, too. My mother was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Her father I never knew and I don't think she ever knew. Her mother was the daughter of a family out of Nashville, Tennessee named Stewart, S-T-E-W-A-R-T, and evidently these Stewarts had been the offspring of some wealthy white person that was probably a slave holder who educated his children. I know my mother told me one time one of her uncles, her 1:00mother's brother, became a physician and my mother became a schoolteacher and her mother evidently, I don't know whether it was a marriage or a relationship and evidently this person who was in the relationship was white. He was not African-American. And my mother was born here in Louisville, Kentucky.

TK: Was her maiden name Stewart?

WP: Yes, that would have been her maiden name. That was her mother's maiden name and her maiden name. Her mother did not actually raise her; she left her here with a woman named Mirah Rudd who raised her and my mother stayed with her until 2:00she was twelve years old. When she was twelve years old, her mother came and got her.

TK: She came back?

WP: She came back to Louisville and got her. At that time her mother was married to a man who was, I don't know whether he was Caucasian or whether he was a real fair African-American, but he was in the United States Navy and he was not in the commissary department. He was a gunner's man and he had to either be Caucasian or passing for Caucasian at that point and time. My mother left here at twelve and went to live with her mother in Philadelphia where she received education through high school. When she finished high school, she wanted to come 3:00back to live with the lady, who raised her because evidently she and my grandmother didn't get along for something, I don't know, she never went too much into it. So she came back to Louisville and took a job with my father. My father was in the funeral business.

TK: Okay, so he was already in the funeral business?

WP: Oh yeah, he started in 1907, this was 1917, 1916, along that time and she worked for my dad, I think, they said seven, eight months when they married.

TK: Now did your grandfather also have the funeral business or did your father start it?

WP: My grandfather, my father's father was a slave who was freed evidently by his owner to join the Union Army in the Civil War.


TK: Really! That seems a little unusual!

WP: Well, in Kentucky, you know, Kentucky was a divided state.

TK: I was just talking to someone about that.

WP: After he, my dad's father, the war was over he came back. He married his wife and all I know is that I knew her loved her dearly, but I never knew what her name was before she was Porter. Her first name was Fannie. See, there weren't any records kept or if there were, there's nothing that we know anything about, slave ownership and this sort of thing. And they lived in Bowling Green until my dad was I guess thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old, somewhere in his teens and then they moved to Louisville. And my dad said that he was still in school but they were so poor and he was so poorly dressed that 5:00the other kids made fun of him that he . . . he was a drop out. And he went to work at the Union [railroad] Station, that's at Tenth Street now, well, the city owns that property; it's a beautiful building down there.

He was a cab driver; they called them hackies in those days. And there's a family here in the funeral business called Ratterman's and the founder of that firm, the old man Ratterman saw my dad at that station driving these what they call hacks, these teams of horses, and he asked my dad if he would come and drive teams of horses for him in his funeral processions and my dad, looking for anything to move up a little bit, said yes. That old man taught my daddy how to 6:00embalm bodies and after he worked for him for a few years, he told my daddy, he said, "You ought to go into business for yourself." My dad said well, he didn't have any money.

TK: Was Ratterman white?

WP: He was white, yeah. Their whole family is still here.

TK: They're still in business right?

WP: Oh, you can believe it, yeah.

TK: I think I've seen the sign.

WP: Well, it's a big strong Catholic family.

TK: So he taught your dad the business?

WP: Right and then in 1907 my dad said this old man took him to Cincinnati and bought a hearse and told him, "There, go in business," and he paid the old man back as he was able. They had very good business for a long time until they got involved in politics in the early twenties, well, late teens and early twenties.

TK: Was your father involved in World War I at all?


WP: No.

TK: He would have been too old?

WP: I don't know what he would have been. He wasn't in the service, I know that.

TK: Actually I had a clarifying question about your dad. Had he been involved in politics at all prior to the Lincoln Party?

WP: No, the Lincoln Party itself was an outgrowth of a group . . . they had no intention in the world of forming any party. They would try to get the Republican Party, which had almost sole possession of the black vote every election because blacks were taught to believe they should vote Republican because Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves; phooey, because we know he didn't, not out of love. [Laughter]

There weren't any blacks involved in government or doing anything for the government or the city or the county. I think my dad said there was one man down at City Hall who was a janitor and some woman who was a maid down there. Those 8:00were the only two blacks employed by government. There were a group of these men, one of them was an editor of a newspaper, couple of doctors, one was a banker, and my dad, and some black women who were involved in this and they tried to get the Republicans to agree to hire some blacks in government positions. See, there were no policemen, black policemen, no black firemen, no black nothing other than these two servants and the Republicans refused to do this. That's when they decided to form this Lincoln Independent Party. They knew they couldn't win an election, but they would try to establish the value of the vote. That's when my dad ran for mayor and [unintelligible] . You know you look back some times and think how very, very stupid you were for not retaining 9:00things and some of the publications, the papers and whatnot of that time I had in my possession and in cleaning out some of my dad's stuff, I just threw it away.

TK: Wow.

WP: No value to me at that point in time. I think out at the University Archives, they've got some publications and some records that will establish just about everything I'm telling you. My dad [unintelligible] the ticket, he ran for mayor and they had candidates for every office that was up, this was in 1921, including some women on the ballot.

TK: Wow! Do you remember the names of any of these people or did anyone ever tell you the names because you would have. . . .?


WP: And that's the reason I say I almost hate myself. Some of the stuff I had they even had pictures of these people.

TK: George Wright might have that in his book, his book goes up to 1933.

WP: You check, he might have. I tell you somebody out there in history, Bruce Tyler might have something I don't know. I've talked to Bruce several times.

TK: I can check.

WP: But my dad got on that ticket. Evidently the Democrats had started gaining some foothold in the city as far as some voting [unintelligible] and the Republicans got upset really; they thought they might lose an election and they tried to buy my dad off. They offered him a sum of money, which in those days was astronomical, something like ten, fourteen thousand dollars, something like that, he said.


TK: Wow!

WP: Back in those days, that was the equivalent of what, half a million dollars?

TK: Yeah, yeah, that's a big chunk of change!

WP: And he refused to do it and that's when they say, "Well, okay, we'll break you," and they eventually did. They did with the help of African-Americans, but I have no animosity because those people were ignorant. They didn't even know what my dad and them were trying to do, I don't think, and then some of them were taking the money from Republicans. It's like people, that's all, they're just people, that's all! And of course, I don't think they got too many votes and my dad said most of the votes they got, they took their ballot boxes and threw them in the river where they couldn't even count the votes. Politics was pretty dirty thing back in those days.

TK: And that's in the twenties?


WP: Yeah.

TK: A question I had about the thirties and forties, so kind of before we get into the heart of the civil rights era, is what was the extent of black involvement in politics in the thirties and forties?

WP: Well after the crash and during the big Depression and the advent of [U.S. President] Franklin Roosevelt, all of those people who were Republican black became Democrats. I guess you would say for a while my daddy was the leader of these people. At the end of the twenties you saw the crack coming and they hired a handful of black policemen and they established a black fire squadron then. That's when the crack came. Then in the thirties there was progression, still segregated however; it was this is your this, this is your this, this is your this. I don't know that my father's health failed, started failing in the late 13:00thirties and he became a sick man physically and mentally and he died in 1942. In the latter years he just was not as active as he had been because he just wasn't able to do it. He worked hard to try to hold his business because it had just gone to pot and when he died, I guess we were fortunate maybe to bury twenty-five, thirty people a year.

TK: Wow!

WP: And he had just begun to get on the road back and his health broke and I guess my daughter Susan, the squire's eldest son. . . . I was oldest boy and I 14:00don't know, I guess we were just indoctrinated with the idea that the oldest son was supposed to step up to the plate and hit a home run or do something, you know what I mean? And I got involved. I left Indiana University twenty-eight hours short of a degree to come back home and we had a little embalming school here and I went to that and got enough in my head to pass it, boards, and started with my mother to run the business.

TK: That's in the late thirties?

WP: Early forties.

TK: Early forties, okay.

WP: I spent about six, seven months, six months and some days in the Navy. I joined the Navy volunteering to keep from going to the Army in the draft because I didn't want to be in the Army, and had an unfortunate accident in the Navy and I lost my central vision in my right eye; I got a blood clot over it and I can't 15:00see directly in front of me with my right eye. I have little peripherally vision out here, but nothing. You could put a freight train in front of me and I couldn't tell you, I wouldn't know it was there.

TK: So that brought you home, I assume?

WP: They sent me home yeah.

TK: Where were you serving?

WP: I was up at Great Lakes, Illinois, in the Navy. You see Roosevelt had given order that black males would be permitted to come into the Navy [unintelligible] men, apprentice seamen could go as high as you could go and I was one of the first six hundred across the United States to volunteer to join Navy. Coming out, I had mixed feelings about it. Coming home was great in a sense but I had been selected with five other black guys to do what they called some sort of officer candidate training. Another one of the fellows was Graham Martin, one of 16:00my classmates at Indiana University; he was in the group. He went on and became . . . went up in the Navy.

TK: So this was during the war?

WP: Yeah, World War II.

TK: So you came home. When did you come home?

WP: Well, I came home . . . really it was 19, I think, 43, right after my dad died; I went in, did this hitch and came home. My mother, bless her heart, I don't know how she managed while I was gone, but when I came back, she and I together and my brother . . . that's actually the reason I said I would come home would be so that he could college and my sister [unintelligible], who was next to me, could go to school; she was at Spelman University down in Atlanta. My brother went to West Virginia State. I wanted to see that they finished 17:00school and I figured this brother of mine who liked the funeral business would come back and take the business over and I could go back to school because I wanted to go to law school, basically that's really what I wanted. My dad's death sort of threw my brother. He got to drinking and left school; he just never went back. My sister [unintelligible] went on and finished, but she got married, she wasn't interested in the funeral business. As a matter of fact, she moved up in Indiana in a town called Miriam and I got into the business and got my license and I just got involved in the community. NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] and working with the YMCA [Young Men's 18:00Christian Association] and church groups, I was just immersed in the community. And I have to be real honest, not with any intent of doing anything other then making friends and trying to make my business grow!

TK: Networking.

WP: That was my original intention really, but I got involved in these things. I got very deeply involved with the NAACP and I forget what year it was but I headed the membership drive and we had a very successful one, we had over five thousand adult memberships and over two thousand youth memberships! Along with a lady, bless her heart, she's in her grave, Elvira Williams, I shall never forget her, she worked with me as co-chairman of that drive. Worked with Lyman Johnson, Lyman and I walked many a picket line together. And then I just got immersed in 19:00the community and this thing about the school board didn't come until the fifties, the late fifties, 1958 really, and my business was growing and I had gotten married.

TK: When did you get married?

WP: I've been married fifty-six years now.

TK: Oh my goodness! So that would be '40. . . .?

WP: '43.

TK: Let me ask you some questions about the forties before we get into the fifties. First, you know, you came back in '43, what kind of effect did the war have on race relations in Louisville?

WP: Nothing positive.

TK: Really! It didn't help that's interesting because in some places it helped, the war made things better.

WP: Well, there was a strong segregationist community. I didn't see any improvement in that area. The Army was segregated, the Navy was segregated, the 20:00Marines was segregated, everything was still segregated; the town was segregated, the schools were segregated. Actually when I, 'course that was in the thirties when I got ready to go to college, I couldn't go to the University of Louisville, I couldn't go to the University of Kentucky. I had a chemistry teacher . . . I had a scholarship to a school called [unintelligible] up in Ohio.

TK: I've heard of it, yeah.

WP: I turned that scholarship down on the advice of my chemistry teacher that I buried about seven, eight months ago, bless his heart. He told me to go to Indiana University because that's where I could get a good education. That's where I went to school up in Bloomington, might as well have been Tupelo, Mississippi, the segregationist pattern was just as strong except that you could go to school. But little things like swimming in the school swimming pool. Only time you could swim was on Thursday night, I think, it was between seven and 21:00eleven blacks could use the swimming pool because they cleaned it out at eleven o'clock, then you had to wait until next Thursday at seven o'clock before you could swim again. There were no dormitories for blacks.

TK: You lived in town then?

WP: Yes, I did. My fraternity very fortunately had rented a house from a man named Sam Dargen, and we had what we called a frat house, that's where I lived, but we didn't own the house, we just were tenants, but it did give us a place to stay and a sense of togetherness, which was strong, helping one another in school and this sort of thing. We had archives where exams had been kept.

TK: Yeah, they do the same thing today.

WP: Do they? Do they really?

TK: Oh yeah.

WP: I had no idea.

TK: So the war didn't break down segregation at all in the city?


WP: No.

TK: Well, that's interesting. You said that you got involved in the community and one of the organizations you joined was the NAACP. How did you join it and when did you join it?

WP: Oh, it must have been in the mid-forties, maybe '44, '45. I don't know I didn't make no particular mental record of it, it's just that I got involved.

TK: What kinds of things was it doing at the time?

WP: Protests . . . legal threat of a suit or . . .

TK: What was sued?

WP: A threat of a suit against something or somebody.

TK: Oh, threat of a suit, okay, okay. Do you want to get that, I can pause this? [Interruption]

TK: NAACP actions in the forties, the kind of things they would do.

WP: This was just another organization to begin with, but I've always been one of these working guys, you know, if I'm going to get in, I'm going to do 23:00something crazy, looking for something to do stupid. But I joined the Masonic lodge, active in my church and all these things.

TK: What church?

WP: African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Broadway Temple.

TK: Broadway Temple, okay.

WP: The big one at Thirteenth and Broadway. And got around guys like Lyman and a few others who were, I would say we were militant but not crazy.

TK: What do you mean?

WP: Well, we would only do things that you might succeed at, you know, some of the boycotts pressuring our merchants to stop their segregative practices. You know, if a black mother carried her kids downtown to shop, there weren't any restrooms for her children to go to, there wasn't any place to take them to eat, lunch counter and they would get to the end of that and step back and all this 24:00sort of thing, it was just pretty bad. And I got involved in NAACP for that reason, but I don't know why but the membership in NAACP went down. This drive that Elvira and I did was probably the peak membership.

TK: Do you remember what year that was?

WP: '46, '47, somewhere along in there. As matter of fact, Mrs. Williams left Louisville in the early fifties and moved to Washington with her daughter and both of them are deceased now. The war didn't do anything to improve the lot of blacks. We were still in a very strongly segregated society. You were told your place and expected to stay in it. If you got too far out of line, then they 25:00tried to find some way to get you back in line. 'Course, Lyman started his suit at the university during this period and oddly enough, though, everybody refers to that suit and it was vital and an important suit, but back in the late teens one of these men who was in this Lincoln Independent Party filed a suit, which was really an open housing suit, and won that.

TK: That's Warley?

WP: Will Warley. I shall never forget Mr. Warley.

TK: What happened to him? Because I know that he was involved in the NAACP for a while but then he sort of drops out of the record.


WP: Well, he couldn't handle the pressure and whatnot and got addicted to alcohol and lost everything.

TK: Okay, he was a businessman correct? Or newspaper editor, right?

WP: Newspaper editor. He owned the Louisville News, his newspaper was. He was a different man than I. Willis Cole at the Leader.

TK: Right, that's two different ones, yeah.

WP: Cole was pro-black but he wasn't the kind of guy who was going to stand up and fight real hard, you know. He could always make an accommodation and that sort of thing. Warley was one of these guys who, I guess, was crazy. He and my dad, they made no accommodations for anything. You know, they either wanted the whole hog or no hog at all and they got no hog at all. [Laughter]


TK: So he sort of dropped out of the picture because of the. . . .

WP: Yeah, well, his health broke; they left Louisville, he lost the paper. They've had pretty tough times. Their family and our family, their family would eat in our house. He couldn't even make enough to get enough to eat for his family. He had three daughters and one of them might still be living in Florida. I have an address at my funeral home. I don't know if Margaret is still living or not, Margaret and Victoria . . . can't think of that other girl's name . . . Margaret and Victoria and there was another girl, another daughter.


TK: So he was one of the people sort of your father's generation who was very involved in NAACP. Who were some of the other leaders in the NAACP when you got involved? I know Lyman Johnson but. . . .

WP: Oh Lord, let me think back to those days! I'm trying to think of the old fellow's name who was over on Magazine Street. He and I never got along because he always wanted to pacify somebody. As we get along in this, it might come to me, the names might come to me, but Elvira . . .

TK: Well, I can ask something else, maybe the other names will come to you. You said that . . .

WP: Blackburn! Dr. Blackburn.

TK: Blackburn.

WP: Some of these people I can almost see, but I can't put a name with them.


TK: Now are these people then who were older than you?

WP: Most of them.

TK: So like a generation ahead of you sort of thing?

WP: Oh yeah, most of them were.

TK: What about people who were about your age or your generation coming in?

WP: Weren't many.

TK: Really. So why do you think the numbers were declining? You said that after this peak of this membership drive, it started going down a little, why do you think that happened?

WP: I think people got discouraged and then the economics of the community changed in a way for black people; they were able to get better jobs and they formed their own associations and what they said in essence was, "To heck with you white people, you know, we can be with ourselves and do all right." The push 30:00was to send black boys and girls to Kentucky State University, to Fisk University, to Tennessee State, to West Virginia State, the Tuskegee [Institute] , blacks parents didn't worry about University of Louisville, University of Kentucky. They said, "Lord, I got no time for this, I got to get my kid educated so that my kid can come out and get a good job!" And this was it, go along, get along and don't bother me, let me make a living. What do the French call it?



WP: . . . the alumni chapters of the black fraternities and sororities, they were strong. There were two or three black social clubs formed.


TK: Really?

WP: Yeah, and they even went to the extreme of buying property and they had clubhouses and this sort of thing. So, it was almost like you say, an acceptance of segregation and this was made easier to do because of the betterment of the economy in the black community in my opinion. I'm not a sociologist or anything like that but this was the way I saw it and see it. Some people might disagree with me, but this is the way I see it.

TK: Did you participate in any of these social clubs or fraternities?

WP: Yeah, yeah.

TK: What did they do? What was the name of them, too?

WP: Well, some them still exist. Esquire, my fraternity [unintelligible] Alpha Xi fraternity.

TK: I've heard of that one.

WP: Esquire club, the Epicurean club, then later on there was a group for younger fellows who formed the [unintelligible] club. In all these clubs, no, the Esquires never bought property, but the Epicureans we bought a house, 32:00clubhouse and we had, well, everything in it that satisfied us, you know, a place to eat, a place to play cards, a place to play pool. We didn't have swimming pools and all that. This was our social life. There was a rivalry that developed between these social organizations; who's going to have the prettiest dance, who's going to have the prettiest ball, who's going to bring in the biggest name band. This was the social structure of the city. Now, selectivity in membership, yep. It was a little snooty sometimes.

TK: How did you get to be a member?

WP: By invitation and being supported by two members who would vouch for you and you had to pass the acceptance of the group as a whole.


TK: Is it by, how to put this, profession or class or looks?

WP: The Esquires were more by profession and class. The Epicureans covered [unintelligible], you had to be a nice guy. Nothing illegal, you could have just a job working at the post office or you could be a doctor. We had doctors and lawyers and two funeral directors in there, one of my competitors was also my club member. We had guys who were chauffeurs, worked in some of the plants, they did everything. That was the composition of the Epicureans. The Esquires were a 34:00little more hooty-tooty; doctor, lawyer, schoolteacher, professor at the university or something. They've gotten away from that to a degree now but both those clubs are still in existence.

TK: Really?

WP: Yeah.

TK: That's interesting.

WP: The women were with AKA or Delta or Zeta and they had social clubs that they played cards, they had a tea, they had this annual thing. Then the rest of the community was church-oriented, Masonic lodge, Pythians, or the lodges, fraternal order in a sense, we called them lodges, they were fraternal orders; so were the Masons.


TK: Were there any political clubs?

WP: No, not what you would call political clubs.

TK: Not an organization that is specifically devoted to politics?

WP: No.

TK: Did any of these social clubs have any political interests at all or involvement in NAACP or other kinds of stuff?

WP: Supportive. I know the Esquires and the Epicureans were pretty civic minded to the extent that they always contributed finances, but that came about because members of those clubs were interested in those organizations. We had a hospital here at one time called the Red Cross Hospital. You've heard of that, I'm pretty sure.


TK: I've heard of that, yeah.

WP: Back in the, I don't know whether if it was early fifties or late forties probably was early fifties, Red Cross got into some dire financial straits and was threatened with closure and all of the fraternities and sororities and whatnot got together and pitched in and made money, or gave money to Red Cross Hospital to help keep it open. I remember that because I was president of the Epicureans at that time and we got together a thousand dollars, I don't know how we did it, and gave it. That was a lot of money in those days!

TK: That's a pretty good amount of money today! [Laughter]

WP: Well, that really isn't today! But to get a bunch of people to get a thousand bucks together back in those days was really something. You could go out easy and get a thousand dollars today. The Esquires contributed, the black fraternities and sororities contributed. That was our, that's all we had other 37:00than City Hospital and we didn't own that, but that's where the masses of black folks had to go for medical services.

TK: And it was public, right?

WP: Oh yeah, very public.

TK: I have one kind of specific question about the forties is I've read mentioned, and this reminded me before when you mentioned Lyman Johnson, about a protest at Memorial Hall that he participated in. Could you tell me about how that happened, how that came about?

WP: That was an all-black stage show called Carmen Jones.

TK: The stage show, not the movie?

WP: No, this was a stage show, traveling. And the only seats that were available to black folk were a little corner in the back of Memorial Auditorium or on the right, I mean the left side, little bitty section over there. And this is the 38:00NAACP thing. We boycotted that, marched out in front of it, asked blacks not to buy tickets to it and I shall never forget that night. It rained cats and dogs that night. Lyman and I and five or six other people were out there marching, walking this picket line and black folks walked by us like we weren't out there.

TK: Really?

WP: Yeah that hurt, that really, really hurt, but we'd say it again, "They ignorant, they don't know, we still got to fight." That happened. I shall never forget that until the day I die.

TK: Could you tell me about any other protests that you did with NAACP back then?

WP: Other than we advocated boycotts at certain stores like Stewart's and whatnot, but it wasn't effective. As a matter of fact there were two stores, Stewart's and Kaufman's, I think. No, Selman's, it wasn't Kaufman's, it was 39:00Stewart's and Selman's and they had this thing, black women couldn't try on clothes, they couldn't try on shoes. You bought it, it was yours whether it fit or not. You buy a dress, you take it home and it didn't fit, that was your dress, you couldn't take it back. Those two stores, we asked for a boycott. It wasn't effective. Most of the other stores had the same policy, even Ben Snyder's, which we called the cheap store. They say you could go there and buy clothes a whole lot less expensive they were probably just as good. It was a big department store on Market Street, Ben Snyder's store was. The boycott thing that was about the strength of it in the forties really. And it wasn't effective, I have to be honest about it. Number one, I don't think our economic 40:00strength was enough to make it effective. Too few black women could buy the quality of clothes that Stewart's sold anyway. So you don't come and buy these dresses, we could care less, you know.

TK: Right, it's not making a big dent in their pockets.

WP: No way. Same way with Selman's. These were the two top stores.

TK: I've heard a lot about them, especially Stewart's.

WP: There was a store called Byck's and the Byck's were, I guess, probably the most liberal of the stores. They did let you go in there and try clothes on, shoes on and this sort of thing, but that was the only store where you could say you could get quality merchandise where they permitted you to put . . . this was 41:00late up into the forties, early fifties when they permitted this.

TK: Yeah I've heard of Byck's, too, especially Mrs. Byck.

WP: See, Dann Byck was on the Board of Aldermen. I think he was president of the board of alderman, that's Mrs. Byck's husband. And then Mary Helen was very; she was a pretty active woman in the community and pro-civil rights.

TK: Really, what did she do?

WP: Everything she could every place she could. Speak up, put up, argue for you, contribute money so you could hire lawyers to do this and do that.

TK: Oh really? Too bad she's not living anymore.

WP: No, Mary Helen's dead. Her husband's dead. I don't know whether any of the family here's yet. They had a couple of kids. Young Dann, I don't know where young Dann is. He's not in Louisville.


TK: Sounds like an interesting family. One last question on the forties, were you politically active at all in the forties?

WP: Other than to vote no.

TK: What was the reaction locally to the Henry Wallace, the 1948 Progressive Party Henry Wallace campaign?

WP: We were strongly opposed nationally, but by that time, the mass of the black voting had been shifted to the Democrats.

TK: Pretty solidly Democratic by that time?

WP: That's right and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a second God in a sense in the black community, not that he did that damn much. We just prospered as the rest of the country prospered after the Depression. Jobs opened up, wages got better, 'course then came the war and this opened up a lot of things, but even during the war this was a strongly segregated community. When I came back out of the Navy, I took a job working out Naval Ordnance. And in the Navy I had been a 43:00couple of months to a school called an aviation machinists lathes and metal smith school and I had some basic knowledge as far as using tools and this sort of thing was concerned. Took a job out there at Naval Ordnance pushing a broom; that's the only job I could get. They called you a sweeper.

I went back to the personnel and told them I had these qualifications, produced my little certificate they had given me in the Navy and I asked for a better job. Can't give a black man any of these jobs. So I guess I stay there maybe, wasn't two months and I just got disgusted and quit. I wasn't going to take that job. I wasn't going to work for them under those circumstances and they were bringing white boys in there, country boys that didn't know a hammer from a pair of pliers and putting them to work and they were messing up torpedo mounts and they were having to send those back to Canton, Ohio, to get them re-poured. I 44:00said this is stupid, I can do this and I told them forget it! See how silly and crazy this could be, you had to get a tool and my job called for me to go get a broom and some rags. I was a tool commissary and you had to give a chip every time you got a tool. I had those little chips and I walked off from that job with these little chips in my pocket. Do you know they had the nerve to send the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] to my house to get those darn chips?

TK: Really!

WP: So help me.

TK: Oh my gosh! That's interesting.

WP: Well, you would have thought I stole the mint or something, you know!

TK: Yeah, really!

WP: It's crazy! It was the most degrading, galling thing that you could have happen to you. There's no way you can understand unless you live in it. I think I can sort of empathize with the Jews in Germany and other places. I feel I know 45:00what they going through and how degrading it can be, and really, I guess, in a sense it builds up some hatred in you, too, and it's hard fighting hatred because when you get to hate, you lose . . . you lose sight, you lose everything. Well, Louisville wasn't a very nice place to live, really. Improvement now yes, but still things need to be done; long ways from being paradise.

TK: That's what everybody keeps saying. In fact, everybody keeps saying I should make this book go all the way up to the present. It's already fifty years!


WP: Well, history never stops, you know.

TK: I know, I know.

WP: Where's history begin and where's it stop. It stops today, right today, you know, this is as far as you can go. Tomorrow you have another story.

TK: Well, let's move on and talk about the 1950s a little bit.

WP: Okay, I had gotten married, had a family, five children.

TK: Five children!

WP: Yep.

TK: Okay.

WP: And my wife had finished at the old Municipal College, which was the black arm of the University of Louisville.

TK: Now how did you meet your wife?

WP: Well, I had known her in fact all my life.

TK: Oh okay, so she's a local person as well, in other words?

WP: She's very local, yeah, friend of my sister. And she was . . .

TK: I'm sorry, I don't even know her name, what's her name?

WP: My wife?

TK: Yeah.

WP: Harriett with two t's.

TK: Harriett.

WP: With two t's!

TK: All right, so you got married, you had kids, she was. . . .?

WP: Well, as I say, my business grew and we were doing pretty well, but she decided that she wanted to teach. She had finished and had her teacher's 47:00certificate and had been to . . . what's that school up in New York . . . Bank Street and spent a couple of summers getting prepared for teaching . . . oh, what do they call it . . . not retarded children . . .

TK: Special Ed?

WP: Special Ed, yeah, and applied for a job in the old Louisville school system and they told her that they weren't hiring any more Negro teachers and that's when I got mad sure enough. I said, "Well, shit! Something's got to be done about this, you know." We had been trying for, I don't know how many elections, to elect a black person to the school board. We hadn't been successful. We had some people run that we thought were pretty popular people; G.W. Jackson, who was one of the most popular teachers at Central High School, Hortense Young who was very active in almost everything black around here. She tried and she never 48:00made it. We called a community meeting one night up at the Chestnut Street Y and they were talking about running somebody for the school board and they name people and that person would say, "I don't want to run." And I just sat there and listened and finally I said, "What the heck, I'll run!" [Laughter]

Well, they settled on me because actually I was obviously the only person who felt like they wanted to take this thing on because they thought you'll get beat again, you know what I mean. So Lyman and Maurice Rabb were my confidants and we got together on a campaign strategy. I had a very good friend, Charlotte Smith McGill, whose mother was very active in Democrat politics. Louise Reynolds, who 49:00was an alderman, ex-alderman, was very active in the Republican Party and they were my friends and they worked with me and we formed a strategy. It's been called single-shot voting or whatever you want to call it but there were three openings on the school board that year, and of course ,when you get the ballot, they say vote for only three, be but twelve candidates, you can vote for only three. We organized Democrat precinct captains, Republican precinct captains who were black--this is in the black wards primarily--with instructions to tell their people, "Don't vote for anybody but Woodford Porter. Don't you vote for but one person, not three people."

The community was good to me, as far as money for getting placards and getting letters out and all that sort of thing. Lyman was my treasurer; Maurice Rabb, I 50:00just talked to Jewel yesterday, to his widow, she's been ill, but she's still living. They gave me the use of the second floor of the building up on Chestnut Street where Dr. [unintelligible] had his office. They just said, "Here you can have it for the campaign." That's where we had headquarters and Charlotte and her mother helped devise the campaign by knowing where the precincts were that we had the majority of the votes, black votes. We organized those. It was really, really well done. We got the precinct captains, both Republican and Democrat in those wards, to commit to supporting me. I went to all those meetings they had, you know, the debates and whatnot. I think I came off pretty 51:00well in the debate. I organized sort of what you see a platform and the things that I advocated, 'course, desegregation was one of them, I'll be honest with you. I knew I wasn't going to attract many white folks, although I did get some.

TK: Now what year was this?

WP: '58.

TK: '58, that's what I thought.

WP: 1958. The election went off and I got elected! Took my seat; served eight years, chaired the board two or three times in those eight years. I had to formulate some sort of strategy to get some of the things done I wanted done. I 52:00had only one vote and that doesn't control anything on a five-member board. I was willing to trade horses, [unintelligible] and you do what you have to do. You can't get everything you want all the time, so take a little bit today and little bit more tomorrow and a little bit more the next day. Pretty soon you got the whole damn pie and people wonder how in the heck you got it. [Laughter] It was during that time that the demonstrations and whatnot started and my kids were, Sharon, Woody, and Marie, were actively involved.

TK: Really, now I had heard Sharon's name before, but I hadn't heard the other two.

WP: Marie and Woody. Those are the three oldest children.

TK: Okay, Sharon . . .

WP: Marie.

TK: Marie and I guess that must be Woodford, Jr.?

WP: Yeah.


TK: How did they get involved?

WP: Participants. They used to demonstrate. They all went to jail!

TK: Oh really?

WP: Everybody went to jail. As a matter of fact, I think they had race on to see who could get arrested the most. [Laughter]

TK: As a parent, how did you feel about that?

WP: Very good. You know my wife could tell you this, 'course they had deseg'ed the schools by then.

TK: Yeah, I wanted to go back and ask about that, but go ahead.

WP: One of Sharon's teachers, because Sharon was going to Shawnee, asked her mother, "How can you let your daughter do this?" She said, "How could I not let her do it!" 'Course my wife had a job teaching by then' too. Yeah, yeah, when you're on the school board, they're not going to tell your wife they're not going to hire anymore Negro teachers. And the kids, as soon as school was out, they went to Quinn Chapel Church and that's where they were organized and sent out in squads to sit-in, to march, to do whatever they had to do to bring about 54:00desegregation; public accommodations, that's what this aim was. Oddly enough, Eugene Johnson, who was a member of the school board who owned Blue Boar Cafeterias, was also president of the Louisville Restaurant Association. My kids sat in front of the doors at his place. One morning the phone rang and it was Gene on the phone and he said, "Woody, I want to talk to you." They called me Woody, too, but my son was the first Woody, that's what everybody called him. I

said, "Yeah Gene, come on down." He said, "I can't come down there, reporters will follow me sure as shootin'." And they would have and I said, "Well, I can't come up there because I just can't afford to come in your place until you open 55:00the doors." So we agreed we would meet out at Sixth and Hill, old school board office, and we met out there. They were nice to us, gave us a little lunch and gave us a conference room. We sat and talked, I guess, two and half, maybe three hours when I finally convinced Gene that he should just go ahead and open his doors, nothing was going to happen. We weren't going to bankrupt him or anything else; he wasn't going to lose any customers. He finally said, "Well, I'm going to take the chance." That afternoon he went back and opened the doors to all those kids.

TK: Really?

WP: Yeah.

TK: Wow, I didn't know!

WP: Yeah, that's the way it happened, that's the way it happened. Then it was a domino effect, the rest of the restaurant owners . . .

TK: Because he was a holdout, wasn't he sort of?

WP: He was the leader of the restaurant . . . the whole restaurant association was, "No, you can't. We're not going to serve you!"

TK: Yeah, because I had seen his name before.


WP: But he was the first domino to fall. There were always, I shouldn't say always because all of them finally fell, there were little spots here and there. Then we sent out teams of testers then and my wife and I did testing.

TK: Oh really?

WP: Yeah.

TK: So how did that . . . ?

WP: We got turned away a lot of places. [Laughter]

TK: Is this after the law got passed, you did the testing?

WP: Yep, yep. I'm trying to think of the place . . . oh, I know where it was . . . where Azalea's is now there was a place out there called . . . I wish Harriett was here . . . what that restaurant was called out on Brownsboro Road. And all the waiters and the headwaiters, they were all black and we went testing. You see what we'd do, there would be a white couple and a black couple and we'd send the white couple in, they'd get seated. Then Harriett and I would go in or our black couple would go in the same restaurant and they either got seated or got 57:00turned away. And when they got turned away, we knew then this place hadn't desegregated so then we started putting the pressure on them. It worked. Hasenour's over here that was one of the hardest ones to crack and my wife still never wanted to go into Hasenour's. Oh, she hated it!

TK: They closed now, right?

WP: Oh yeah. They bankrupt and everything else. Of course, restaurant business is one of the hardest businesses in the world. The success in the business is around 30 percent. 70 percent failures in the restaurant business. But deseging had nothing to do with Hasenour's failure, it was just poor management that did that and that was years and years later. Bill Ekstrom and Jim [unintelligible] at the university, they liked to go to Hasenour's and Harriett would say, "Oh, I don't like to go to that place!" [unintelligible] we good friends. They liked 58:00going and she's say, "Oh, I don't like to go to that place!" But we went on. They made a good martini. [Laughter]

TK: Do you remember the name of the white couple that you tested with?

WP: [Pause] I don't know whether it was the Underhills. If Harriett comes in she might. I wouldn't want to say, but the Underhills come to mind for some reason. Most of these white couples were younger as I recall most all of them were younger, not kids now, but younger married couples, dating couples or something like that. Trying to think . . . was it the Underhills? Harriett might remember who it was. You can't do all this stuff.


TK: Yeah, well, I'll circle that as a question to maybe ask her if she comes in or something, follow up on it. So your kids are going off and doing this, did you have conversations at home with them about it or did they just . . .?

WP: Oh sure, sure. When they were arrested, here in our family we ate dinner together every night. This was part of our raising our family and at the dinner table you could talk about anything that you wanted to talk about, there were no taboos, nothing. And we always talked about it and strategies and this sort of thing. Sharon, the oldest girl, was probably the more aggressive of all of them. Woody was a good follower and wasn't going to take no back seat, but he wasn't as aggressive as Sharon. Marie was always one of these nice sweet little kids; 60:00she went along, she was going with the flow, you know. But Sharon was the aggressive one. Sharon ended up going to UK, got all her degrees up there; taught school in Germany and taught school in Lexington, joined the NEA [National Education Association] and she ran some big department for the NEA for several years. Then when [U.S. President Bill] Clinton was elected, I guess he paid the NEA off to a degree for their support. Sharon became assistant secretary of education.

TK: That's right, Raoul Cunningham told me that. She's Sharon Porter-Harris now right?

WP: Sharon Robinson.



TK: . . . his name was one of them, but since she was out of town, I didn't contact him yet.

WP: Yeah, she's in Princeton now. She's, what do they call it, chief operating officer of ETS.


TK: Oh really? Wow! So you said they got arrested?

WP: Oh yeah, they took them to Children's Center, a bunch of them everyday, hundred, hundred and fifty.

TK: That's amazing. That's a lot of people.

WP: Well, if they didn't, they also tried to get them up there after Children's Center had served the kids, so they'd be hungry that night. And Lyman and I tried to go rustle up some food and take them up there. I'll never forget this night we went up there with all these White Castle hamburgers. [Laughter]

TK: Oh really.

WP: Yeah, that place smelled like one big onion! [Laughter] Oh shucks, it wasn't funny either. I mean we were scared. I'm not going to say we weren't afraid because some of owners had rent-a-cops and Gene Johnson was one and I saw one of his rent-a-cop take his [unintelligible] stick and punch one little girl in the belly with it. And I'm standing right across the street in front of Selman's and people grab me and say, "Come back, Porter, you can't go over there. You go over 62:00there and get arrested, they all going to make a fuss and excuse to get you thrown off the school board!" But I think we were right to do it. I think the kids were right to do it. Somebody said something to me one day about using children. I said, "Well, God sent Jesus, his only son. Come on, my son's no better!"

TK: Was it mostly school children in the demonstrations or were there adults as well?

WP: Out to do the demonstrating, yeah, yeah.

TK: So what did the adults do?

WP: Be supportive, doing whatever they had to do, transportation, getting them out of the clink and hiring lawyers. That was another unique thing . . . Henry Triplett was the, what do you call them, the prosecuting attorney's office, and he was also a lawyer for the school board.


TK: Oh, I didn't know that. So there's a lot of interconnections in this town.

WP: Yeah. We generally knew it was just going to be what the kids used to say, a ride up, a walk back, you know, they weren't going to go to jail or anything like that. Occasionally we had to leave them in there overnight because we couldn't get to a judge to get an order to get them released.

TK: How did Fontaine Ferry [amusement park] get involved in all this?

WP: It was one of the segregated places.

TK: So it just kind of spread to all different kinds of locations and that was one of them, because I've heard about the Fontaine Ferry stuff?

WP: Sure, yeah.

TK: How did all this get resolved?

WP: Well, of course, with the restaurants tumbling was the initial thing, then after that, everybody, I think, they just stared at the ground, said look, this 64:00is silly, this is stupid, whatnot, and then you got an ordinance. This community is just kind of weird. The real power structure never wants to be illegal about anything and the social mores and customs, they only enforce them as long as you don't have a law saying they can't. You know, something on the books that says you can't do that. Generally they used to get right to the line and anybody complain, they'd say that's the law, I can't do that; they got an out. Not that there's any love there, they got an out.

TK: That's interesting and that's different than more Southern places would.

WP: Oh, a whole lot different.

TK: I read something that [unintelligible] mentioned and I think I read your name in connection. I'm not sure. I'm going to ask you, Non-partisan Voter 65:00Registration Committee, what was that?

WP: It was an attempt to build some political strength. Frank Stanley, Jr., Neville Tucker, and I formed that group. Neville was a Republican, Frank was a Democrat, and I was an Independent and what we wanted to do was to get masses of black registrations so we could produce masses of black votes. Mediocre success.

TK: When was this?

WP: Let me think . . . late fifties, middle to late fifties.


TK: Okay, so before the open accommodations demonstrations?

WP: Oh yes, yes, yes! Let me put these things in the right perspective in my mind. So much was going on; so many things. It was either right before or right after the demonstrations. I'd have to go back almost and get into my scrapbook, I guess, to try to say a pinpoint. But we formed this group to . . . and I'm inclined to think it might have been after the demonstrations and whatnot, because what we were then going to try to do was to follow-up and to push for other things and we figured we needed the power of vote, the ballot so we could control local election and we only had mediocre success with that. 67:00Unfortunately, Frank, Jr., wavered, Neville got grabbed by the Feds on an income tax thing, and it just sort of. . . .

TK: So why do you think it didn't have . . . were you just not able to get very many people to register or just you had trouble translating that to power? You say you didn't have good success, so I guess I'm saying why you think that is?

WP: That's a good question and I'd have to think about that a long time before I give you an answer. I'd have to think about that a long time.

TK: Well, you do that, I'll call you back. [Laughter]

WP: Personalities had something to do with it I think. Neville's involvement and my own involvement. I got into the school board thing and the education thing 68:00and whatnot, and you get spread too thin. I think the big weakness was Frank, Jr.'s, and I don't want to say that . . . Frank, Jr., just got carried away with big ideas and spent a lot of money he shouldn't have spent. As matter of fact, we bailed the organization out. My school board campaign, Lyman and I, bailed it out of debt that Frank ran up. We had money left from my campaign funds that we 69:00just transferred that over and paid some of those debts off; used all of it to pay some of those debts off. I don't know what really. It's hard for me to pinpoint, but something happened to Frank, Jr., and his ideas just got . . .

TK: Grander?

WP: Yeah. It's really a sad, sad story because he was such a bright young man, so very, very bright, great personality. Neville was bright, too, because, as I say, Neville got caught by uncle not paying his income taxes or something, cheating on them or something. And they hauled him off. So that sort of just 70:00went by the board. Lyman and I paid those debts off for the non-partisan registration because we had the money left and Lyman said, "Well, it's not ours." I said, "No, let's take it." There's no way in the world we can give it back to the people because there are too many people involved. What this is, this is the black community and we just took it and used it for that.

TK: What happened to Frank Stanley, Jr., did he leave town?

WP: He's mentally . . .

TK: Yeah, yeah, I knew that he was ill in a way but I didn't know when that happened.

WP: Sad, sad story; such a bright, bright man.

TK: He can't be that old?

WP: He's not as old as I am, I know. I was the old man of the outfit. He and Neville were younger than I maybe by six years, five, six years, something like that. But he's seventy now or better.


TK: Wow! For some reason I had him pictured as being younger than that.

WP: Now he's seventy. Neville is, too. Neville was bright, very, very bright. His dad was a lawyer and his mother was a very bright woman. She was a minister in our church then, the [unintelligible] Zion church. His dad became a bishop in our church, very, very strong man. He went down in Elizabethtown someplace and defended some black boys accused of raping a white woman down there or something. He had a lot of guts, lot of nerve. I wouldn't have gone to Elizabethtown to buy a hamburger. [Laughter] I'll be honest with you.

TK: Yeah, he was also sort of civil rights leader in the fifties, wasn't he?

WP: Yeah, yeah, the old man. These people were very supportive and it's hard to . . . I wouldn't want to single out any person and say you know this guy was strong and the other guys. . . . Frank Sr., who had the newspaper, you couldn't 72:00have wanted a more supportive person. When I ran for the school board, I couldn't have wanted a more supportive person. I got reams of press from him that I would have had to pay I don't know how much money to get. But there was a oneness about all of us that it's pretty hard to really describe. You got to live these things to be able to really feel it.

TK: Should I pause it for a second?

WP: Yeah.

[Tape is stopped]

TK: Oh you used an interesting expression, that's what I wanted to ask you. You said that you were all like one, could you explain that?

WP: When I say one there was a oneness of purpose. Not always agreement on method, but a oneness of purpose that doesn't exist today, as you pretty well 73:00see. The divisiveness now about in education. Central must be, you know. Some people want to go back to neighborhood school, they won't say segregated schools, but that's what they become when they become neighborhood schools. I don't believe that you'll ever get justice when you have separation. I haven't been convinced that my brethren are willing to be really fair with distribution of any assets, personnel, money, equipment. I lived through that and I'll just never be convinced that everybody will be that fair, so I don't think I can support neighborhood schools.


TK: There's not too many neighborhoods in Louisville where a neighborhood school would be integrated.

WP: That's what I'm saying. When they get segregated, I know what's going to happen.

TK: Separate is unequal, is that what you're saying?

WP: Yep.

TK: What kind of issues came up when you were on the school board?

WP: A lot of interesting things. Where to build schools was a big one. The old Louisville school system was in the unique positions of having tax dollars available to build schools, but we didn't have tax dollars available to operate them. Now that sounds funny but that's the way the school laws are in Kentucky. And we could build schools. The county was growing, 'course white flight had started, and we could build schools but we didn't have the population, school 75:00population, to support the operation of the schools that we needed, you know, we had all this capital, we could build the finest schools in the United States. And at that time, it was early on my first term on the Louisville board, I think it was, that the question of building a new Atherton High School came up and where to build it, etc.

You know one of the things about the old Louisville school board was they liked to do everything with a unanimous vote. And I'm not a contrary man, so I said, "Okay, you want to build Atherton, that's fine, but now we need some schools other places!" Up in the East End of town near the stockyards up there was a school; I went to visit it. Primarily white, terrible, smelled bad, dirty, 76:00equipment broken and run down, books terrible. Phillis Wheatley School out in what we call California was a firetrap, old, dry. The janitor and janitors did keep it clean, but if a fire had ever started in there, there would have been a bunch of kids burned up because wooden steps, straight up it would have been just like a big chimney. School out here on Kentucky Street on around . . . oh, is it Seventh and Kentucky. Mixed neighborhood, poor whites and blacks, rooming houses. The population in that school turned over about six times every year, 77:00that's how kids moved in and out, but a terrible school. So I made a deal. We'll build Atherton if you will build me a new school up here for these kids behind the stockyards, if you'll build me a new Phillis Wheatley, if you'll build me a new school up here on Kentucky. [Laughter] These elementary schools they don't cost like building high schools. You don't have to have chemistry equipment and all this stuff.

Now I know some people didn't like it, but they wanted my vote, they didn't want to [unintelligible] one vote and the reasons why to the press and so I got those schools. Then they turned around and they wanted to do something with Ahrens Trade School. I said, "That's fine, but you've got to start plans for a new 78:00Central High School." Now Central was built after I was off the board.

TK: The new Central was?

WP: Yes. But this is the way I learned to trade horses. This is what I call the interpersonal politics in a sense, but if you know how people want to operate, it's the way you do and I hadn't done [unintelligible]. That's the reason I try to tell African-Americans today, you don't really control the Board of Aldermen; you only got three votes and what you get out of that depends on your ability to make deals. And I just took my little one vote every place I've been and make deals that's all and I got schools built, and the deseg thing came up and as far as the faculty was concerned and after some trade-offs . . .

TK: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that because, in effect, integration was one of the issues right when you first got on, so how did that develop?


WP: Some trade-offs. There were a couple of board members, and I can't call their names, I won't, they're dead and I respect their memories, who were opposed. The superintendent wasn't in favor of . . .

TK: Was it still [Omer] Carmichael?

WP: Yeah. Nice Christian gentleman, somebody told me that not long ago, I liked to drop. "Oh, he was our Sunday school teacher!" Yeah, who taught him Sunday school! [Laughter]

TK: And didn't they miss a few things.

WP: Yeah. When it came up, I made this deal that the first movement to teacher integration would be very, very small, purposely. I just felt we had greater chance of success with doing it on a small scale and it worked that way. You 80:00see, people will accept things if they find out that it is workable. The unknown is a rough thing for a lot of folks to take and me included. It was just a handful of teachers at first and then they were able to just gradually and now I don't think anybody thinks about black principals, white teachers, white principals, black teachers, you know, who cares anymore. Is the teacher any good, that's the big argument! But you had to start somewhere and there wasn't any reason to start with masses and get in a big protest and some more confusion and whatnot. That's my logic, maybe I'm stupid, I don't know, but it's just the way I saw it.

TK: Does this go back to what you said before with the NAACP in the forties is you tackle something you know you can get done?


WP: Sure.

TK: So the [unintelligible] approach rather than . . .

WP: You know success breeds success, you know that?

TK: Yes.

WP: You know failure breeds failure?

TK: Well, if one thing works, then people are more willing to . . .

WP: That's right.

TK: And that does seem to be my impression about Louisville, from what I've read, is there's a little success, then a little thing, then a little thing, you know, spread out over twenty years rather than, you know.

WP: It's a funny town. I laugh when people say, "I live in Louisville, Kentucky, a big old country town!" It isn't really country country, but you have a lot of things. Everybody knows everybody almost and everybody knows what almost everybody else is doing. If you're doing anything, somebody. . . . There's still a big void in this town as far as blacks being strong on entrepreneurs.


TK: Oh really?

WP: Still a big void. I'm not going to place any blame for that anywhere at this point and time, because I really don't know where to place it. I'm not sure that we are really prepared yet; school, yeah, but a mental preparation, the discipline that it takes.

[Tape paused -- knock at door]

TK: Yeah, after I have kids, I'll try to understand it. So you were talking about the teacher integration ended up being sort of incremental.

WP: Yeah, it was and I'm inclined to think that that maybe as successful as it's been. Now I can be ten times wrong on Sunday. I'll admit some bias about it because that's the way I favored doing it and if you don't love your own child, who will? But Carmichael, of course, left and Sam Noe became superintendent of the schools. Sam Noe was a little easier to reason with. We had to fight the 83:00early fight on the merger with the county, and we were ready to merge early on and tried to get some special legislation passed that would not have taken the political strength of the Louisville system away from it. And I'm trying to think of who was the superintendent of schools in Bullitt County, but we went to Frankfort with the bill and we were going to get the bill passed, matter of a fact, we got it through the House, but . . . oh, what was that guy's name? This guy brought busloads of teachers up there from the county system when we went to 84:00the Senate with it. So the Louisville school system hung on a few years and then it was desperation. You can't operate good schools unless you got operating money, so they had to go and accept the merger under the county's terms. I don't think it's been all that bad and I guess they've done about as good of job as they could do, I would assume. I haven't been close enough to that really to make hard judgments about things.


TK: Were you still on school board when the merger happened?

WP: No, no, no, no, no, I'd been gone, but the first effort at merger I was on the board. As a matter of fact, the bill we had up there, my friend, Hughes McGill, you heard me say Charlotte, well, her husband was a state representative.

TK: Oh, okay. I wonder when you said the name. . . .

WP: Hughes, very, very unique man, Hughes was. He had some way or another of getting in the old boys club and he sort of shepherded that bill through the House for us. But as I say, we got a favorable vote from the House, but . . . oh, what was that guy's name . . . superintendent, I can see him now . . . he brought all those teachers up there and they descended on the Senate and county 86:00teachers and that ended it. We didn't have a chance. Georgia Powers was a state senator then, but she didn't have no, nothing like the kind of [unintelligible] that would get that bill through. She didn't have the kind of [unintelligible] that Hughes had down in the House, because Hughes would get down on, in the hotels in the evening, you know, and that's where the deals are made.

TK: Were you involved in any way in the busing controversy issues?

WP: No.

TK: So what was your last year on the school board?

WP: '66.

TK: Were you involved in anything else in terms of civil rights activity after 1966?

WP: Only going to the university.

TK: That's the Board of Trustees, so I guess just real quick, so you weren't involved in the open housing campaign?


WP: No, not directly.

TK: So how did you get on the U of L Board of Trustees?

WP: Sort of a funny thing. The University of Louisville Trustees, you know the University of Louisville at one time was a self-quasi-municipal college. The county contributed a little money, the city contributed a little money, state paid no money at all, the rest of it came from tuition and fees, etc., etc. The trustees at the university, before it went to the state system, was elected by the mayor and the Board of Aldermen.

TK: I did not know that.

WP: The mayor nominated trustees when there were vacancies and the Board of Aldermen, like the Senate, confirmed. Normally, the confirmation process was a rubber stamp thing. The mayor before he put anybody up he had. . . . At this 88:00point in time we had a divided government though, Kenny Schmied, the mayor, was a Republican, the Board of Aldermen was divided, nine Democrats and three Republicans, I think, something like that. These vacancies came up, three vacancies at U of L's board came up. Kenny Schmied, the mayor, nominated me and two other people. The Board of Aldermen voted on confirmation and I was the only one that got confirmed. There was a big hassle for several months after that, trying to get two more trustees. The two that Kenny nominated other than myself were never confirmed. Some sort of compromise was reached and two other people 89:00were finally confirmed to those seats. And that's how I got on. Between time, meeting the university board, though I had served for two years on an advisory committee to establish JCC [Jefferson Community College].

TK: Oh really?

WP: Yeah, UK [University of Kentucky]. Then this University of Louisville thing came up and they said, "Would you like?" and I said, "Yeah I'd like to give it a try."

TK: So you were very involved in education issues then?

WP: Primarily that's my concern, my life's concern almost. I felt like that without educated people, you can't get very far. You got to have trained people to do things and to make money and to become politically strong, that's my [unintelligible] feelings.

TK: Were you then on the Board of Trustees during the Black Student Union episode at U of L?


WP: Yeah.

TK: What role did the trustees play in that, any role at all?

WP: Not much. The administration handled most of it.

TK: Handled it without you basically. I didn't know, I mean I've only started investigating that situation, so I don't know how far it went. But you all didn't have to step in or anything?

WP: Well, it went like this. Yeah, we were involved in with the administration making some recommendations, etc., etc., etc. But now the trustee board itself almost told the administration you resolve this, you know, you handle this inside. There's a whole lot of difference between the university board and the school board [unintelligible], whole lot of difference.

TK: Oh really? They didn't do the same, wanting everything by unanimous vote?


WP: No. As a matter of fact . . . was it my third time as chair of the board, I only got elected by one vote, because there were some people who were trying to politicize the body, and they wanted to name a former chairman of the Board of Aldermen as chairman of the board. Mary Rudd, who's deceased now . . .

TK: I've heard that name.

WP: Mary Rudd, Mason Rudd's wife. She deceased, too. Mason lives in this building, too; we're good friends. But it was her vote that . . . that came about because the fellow that wanted it wanted to really get rid of the president and James [unintelligible] and I didn't favor it and I wouldn't step 92:00down . . .



TK: Just let me ask like one or two kind of wrap-up type questions. One question I like to ask everyone is in your mind when did the civil rights movement end?

WP: It hasn't.

TK: Or did it? I should ask that differently, I guess. And then, in your mind, what still goes on then? How does the civil rights movement continue?

WP: I wouldn't say that [Phone rings] The civil rights movement as far as legalizing everything is just about over, but now the fight to keep your civil 93:00rights, to exercise your civil rights will never end; let's don't kid ourselves. Human beings won't ever let it end; we're funny animals and it'll just never end. I have a feeling that, you know, if God in his infinite wisdom, be there God, tonight at midnight took all the peoples of the world and made us all the same color with all the same hair and everything, but he made 50 percent of us gray-eyed and 50 percent of us brown-eyed, by tomorrow morning the gray eyes and the brown eyes would be fighting like hell.

TK: That's human nature?


WP: We are that kind of animal. Somebody always wants to be on top. Somebody always wants to have a little bit more. Somebody wants to be boss and somebody doesn't want to be bossed and I defy you to find a time in history that hasn't happened.

TK: It's not the most cheerful thing in the world.

WP: Why should I look forward to that happening? The civil rights movement in the United States as far as laws on the book and whatnot is pretty well . . . that is over almost. I can't think of much of anything really that you need to legislate any more. But enforcing the law and application of the law and adherence to the law is going to be going on forever.

TK: Another kind of general question. Before you mentioned one thing and it sort of made me think of a general question, you had mentioned the differences, maybe 95:00the goal was the same but different people had different methods. Over time, in your memory, what have been the more effective methods for bringing about improvement?

WP: No doubt the civil disobedience, if you want to call it that, has been the most effective thing. The second most effective thing has been the use of the ballot in getting representation in legislative bodies which has meant that you've got legislative [unintelligible], administration, the law, all these things flow together. But the willingness to, well the willingness to die for what you believe.


TK: Really put your life on the line, you mean?

WP: Yeah.

TK: That's what the person I interviewed this afternoon said, too.

WP: Really?

TK: Yeah.

WP: Well, this is about it. You know, wars, World War I, now why would I have wanted to gone to Europe to fight anybody personally, but now an ideology says that I must do this because I want to maintain the right of all my brothers and sisters to have a voice in what we're doing. I'm looking at the situation over in Indonesia [unintelligible] today. Do we have any interest there really other than the philosophical interest we might have, other human beings, you know, saving them? But we'll never be able to put out all the fires in this world, by 97:00George, because there's always somebody wanting to subjugate somebody else one way or another [unintelligible]), and that worries me about this country. We can't police this whole durn world. The Romans didn't either, you know, they found out they couldn't police the world; they could conquer it at one time, but you can't police it.

TK: Yeah, that's why they ended up losing the empire. They never could quite control Ireland.

WP: Oh, we're an empire! You not going to find many people say the United States empire, but we are. Oh yeah, our legions aware!

TK: Well, that's a whole other, but . . .

WP: Well, you see, you get into philosophical . . .

TK: Discussions, yeah. Well, here's something that's kind of related to that, which is what do you think have been the most important issues? If you had to look at all the different issues that civil rights and advocates had focused on 98:00over the years, what do you think have been the most important struggles?

WP: In the Deep South the right to vote.

TK: What about Louisville?

WP: I would, of course, here again you come back to my bias, I say education is the big one. You know I've had experience with economic situation here. I tried to borrow some money to build my new funeral home down there. I got turned down by every financial house in the city of Louisville and simply because I was black. I had money, my financial reports were as good as anybody's in town, but I was black and told to go buy you an old house. We'll help you remodel it. But 99:00here again we come back, people make a difference and who you know and [unintelligible] what you do, and I was through the Chestnut Street Y, I had served on that board and I represented Chestnut Street Y on the metropolitan Y board and I met a man there named Homer Parker, who was president of Commonwealth Life Insurance Company. To show you what individual [unintelligible] out, the buddy system in a sense works. We left a meeting at the metropolitan Y one day and he said, "Hey Woody, I hear you're going to build a new funeral home." And I said, "Oh, Homer, no, you mean I want to build a funeral home!" He said, "Well, what's the matter?" I said, "I can't find anybody that will finance it for me." He said, "Well, we'll do it!"

TK: Really!

WP: Now he hadn't even seen my finances, but he knew me. [Phone rings] That's how I got my funeral home.


TK: And was he white or black?

WP: He was white!

TK: So the personal connection that you made through the Y, that's interesting.

WP: You hear them talk now about blacks and the golf course and the buddy system and where deals are made. If I hadn't been on the Y, I don't know if I'd ever got that thing built because we didn't even get on golf courses back in those days.

TK: Right. Well, that's always one of the issues on opening up these places, right?

WP: Right.

TK: I mean that's the whole thing with women business . . .

WP: Just yesterday I had an opportunity to call a former fellow trustee and talk to him about a deal.

TK: Oh yeah.

WP: I said "I want to ask you about something." "That's sold." He said, "Woody, the way I see it, don't touch; you'll lose money." He said, "But call my friend so and so and so and so and talk to him." Well, I called the friend and he said 101:00the same thing. Well, I'm not touching that deal, that's all, you know.

TK: That's interesting.

WP: But it's who you know!

TK: Yeah and it develops over time, too.

WP: But these are all white guys I know. Now I'm not here because I wanted to integrate this building, I'm here because it's a convenient thing for me and my wife at our age. I had a heart attack a long time ago and the doctors told me--I built a house down on Greenwood, raised my family in it--they said, "Well, you can't cut grass and shovel snow and all that stuff anymore." Well, I tried hiring somebody to cut the grass. "We cut but we don't trim and we don't sweep." "Shovel snow, oh, we just throw out of the way!" So I told Harriett, "Okay, Harriett, the kids are gone, let's go." We moved into Kentucky Towers and got 102:00over there and about four o'clock in the morning, a guy would come to pick up that dumpster and he'd bang it up and down and wake me up. I said can't stay here, so we went over to the 800 and rented an apartment over there; probably would have stayed there, but Mr. Driver, the guy that owned the place died, and they got in a state of flux. They didn't know whether they were going to condo it, keep on renting or whatnot.

So we just decided we'd find us a place, buy us a place. We didn't want another house and I knew through the university connection a real estate agent, and we talked to her and she showed us around some places and she said, "Oh, Woody and Harriett, come and look at this place here!" I said, "I can't afford this place." And she said, "Oddly enough, the owner is in bad shape, he's got a big mortgage and his company won't help him, they moved him out of town. Make him an offer." I said, "I'll make him an offer but I know he's not going to take what I 103:00offered him." I made an offer and he took it!

TK: So this is owned and not a rented?

WP: Oh, this is owned, yeah; these are condominiums.

TK: Oh, okay. It's a beautiful building.

WP: And it does everything for me. I don't have to worry about garbage collection. I don't have to worry about snow. I don't have to worry about the grounds. They clean the windows. Right now see all that stuff hanging there?

TK: Yeah.

WP: They're going around the building making sure that all the mortar and whatnot's in place and pipe and all this.

TK: Before winter they try to get that done?

WP: Well, ever so many years, you have to go over everything.

TK: There's someone to help your wife carry the stuff upstairs?

WP: Well, valet service, yeah.

TK: That's pretty nice.

WP: We've got garage spaces and security.

TK: I had [unintelligible] through the security. [Laughter] Although the door wasn't locked, but I guess you couldn't really get in it without going by Dave.


WP: He pressed the button.

TK: Oh he did, I didn't see that!

WP: That's right! You go down there and walk out and then turn around and try to open it and see what happens. [Laughter]

TK: I didn't notice that. He did that real slyly. I had one last question and it's a question I always ask everybody to end up with which is, you know, people ask me why am I writing about Louisville, what's special about Louisville and the civil rights story in Louisville? So how would you answer that question? What's different or unique or interesting about Louisville's story?

WP: I think the fact that it's Louisville makes it unique in that the geographical location, the history of race relations in this city down through the years makes it an interesting place to write about. And there are a whole lot of stories you probably will never hear that I don't even . . . every now 105:00and then I'll hear a new one, to tell you the truth.

TK: Like what kind of stories?

WP: Relationships and what people had to endure and go through and whatnot. You know sometimes I tell some of my white friends, my wife and I went to Chautauqua, New York. You ever heard of that?

TK: Oh yeah, I've been there; it's a great place.

WP: We've been there. We went there for a week with my daughter Sharon, the oldest girl, and we met some people who were from here who were up there and we got to talking and I told them some of my experiences, they didn't know anything like this happened to people!

TK: They were white?

WP: Yeah and I think they were being absolutely honest! Some people in this town just assume that you do everything everybody else does. You could do everything, you know, they don't think that you couldn't do some of these things, that there 106:00were actually social and legal barriers to your full participation. And I think they're being honest, most of them say, "We didn't know that. I didn't know that. Is that so?" And Louisville is that kind of town. And we used to laugh and say, you know, if you want to get City Hall, you have to go to the East End. Now we say if you want to get City Hall, you have to go through this whole dad blame town! That's true, it's a different place than what it used to be!

TK: I think it's a very interesting place.

WP: It's good and it's bad. My concerns now are black youth, that's my real concern. You can go to school, but it won't do you any good if you don't go.


TK: So education is still. . . .?

WP: Yeah, of course males in this country, have you read what is it . . . Newsweek or Time, the recent one, "The Trail of a Male?"

TK: No.

WP: Interesting article.

TK: Is it about black males specifically?

WP: No, males.

TK: Oh, just all males.

WP: Oh, we've got up a little, we've homogenized now.

TK: I'll have to look for that. They always have it at the gym, Time and Newsweek, so I'll have to look for that. I don't get it at home.

WP: It's one of the two. I haven't read the whole article yet, but it's an interesting article talking about males, spouse abuse and all these sort of things, and the sort of evolutionary process that has caused all these things and how males now feel that what you're doing now to some males would be a big challenge.


TK: A woman interviewing them, you mean?

WP: Sure.

TK: Yeah, that is interesting. I've never really had any trouble interviewing mostly because I interview people who are older than me and there seems to be a lot of, "Oh, she's just a dumb young woman, she doesn't know anything. I'll tell her what she needs to know." [Laughter] Actually, that was my last question.