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Michael Jones: Turn on my recorder here.

Kathryn Higgins: Yeah, they see you when you come, they see you when you go. And when you go, that's when they come and do stuff. That's why I started putting a lock on my fence. They were stashing drugs in my yard.

MJ: So how long has your family lived in this house?

KH: My father was in World War II. He was stationed at Fort Knox, and when he got out of the war, September 1, 1946, he and my mother bought this house.

MJ: Okay, so where--was he originally from Louisville, or--

KH: No, my father is from New Orleans and my mother is from Monticello, Arkansas.

MJ: Okay, and what were their names?

KH: My father is Frederick Higgins, and my mother is Elnora Tolliver Higgins. Well, I don't know whether I want to put--let's say Elnora Higgins, how about that?

MJ: Okay. (laughs)

KH: Because too many security codes ask for your mother's maiden name so I can call, I guess. (laughter) You can break into my life or something.


MJ: So did you grow up in this house?

KH: Yes, I did grow up in this house. When I came home from the hospital, this is the house I grew up in. This is my family home.

MJ: Uh-huh. And--Internet not working well.

KH: My family dog, Emma.

MJ: And so what was Russell like when you were growing up here?

KH: Well, Russell--right next door in this building, we had a bakery. We had a hair salon. We had a cobbler. There were apartments in there, and I used to walk around the corner just to get my hair done as a child. Just right around the corner. Lady next door, she just died in November. She was an elementary school principal at Coleridge-Taylor.

The lady in that white house there, she was the elementary school principal at Kennedy Elementary where my mother taught. Just the next block over, my father had a business, Rose and Higgins Funeral Home. Two doors down was the house of 2:00one of the original owners of a bar on Walnut Street, and by the time I came along, he was already dead but I knew his widow and I knew his dog. And of course they're dead now.

And I can't say I remember who he was, but he was one of the original owners--but we could probably find property owners for that address, it would be 2609, I believe. This is 2605, so this is 2609. In the next block, excuse me just a second.

MJ: All right.

KH: All righty. So anyway, in the next block, it was the doorman at the Brown Hotel. He lived there, and you know back in the '40s, those were good jobs for 3:00black men. That was a job of prestige. In the next block, Mae Street Kidd lived and she was a state legislator. That's the Russell that I grew up in, and that's the Russell I know. That's the Russell of my childhood.

MJ: Did they call it Russell back then?

KH: Yeah, yeah.

MJ: So what year were you born?

KH: (laughs) Are you going to put that in there?

MJ: (laughter) All right, (inaudible 0:03:35.5).

KH: I guess I'll tell you, 1958.

MJ: Okay, okay, so--

KH: 1958 and my parents bought the house in 1946, September 1st of 1946. And this house has been in my family ever since.

MJ: Yeah, I ask because the Russell name didn't really come till the '60s.


KH: Oh really, okay.

MJ: Because I talked to, do you know Elmer Lucille Allen?

KH: I do. You know my mother and--my mother went to college with Elmer Lucille Allen.

MJ: Oh, okay. At Nazareth's?

KH: At Nazareth's.

MJ: Well, she had told me when she was growing up, it was just the West End, and she didn't know where Russell came from. I talked to Ken Clay, and he worked with some like a poverty program. They were looking at the neighborhoods, they named them all after the junior high school. So the junior high school was named after Harvey Russell, so they called this neighborhood Russell.

KH: I got you, okay. All righty. I got you. I did not know that, but that's good 5:00information. And I think later on Louisville got into this neighborhoods contests so I guess every neighborhood had to have a name. You know, like Germantown, all of a sudden became Schnitzelburg and all that kind of stuff.

MJ: So when did you sense that the neighborhood was changing?

KH: Well, basically my parents and their peers started getting older. First of all, my parents were a victim of redlining, okay. And so I feel like I'm the second generation victim of redlining because right now, I couldn't get any more for my house then my parents paid for it in 1946. Now the way you build equity is homeownership, but I'm not going to have equity out of the house. And I realized that, I have friends that lived in Portland and their mom had to go to a nursing home.

They sold the house and that's what pumped Mom into the nursing home. I wouldn't be able--I don't have that opportunity, and that's just (inaudible 0:06:01.4), you know. But we know there's a history of disinvestment in the neighborhood. I 6:00guess when I was growing up, I had all the role models of those professional ladies who went to work and their expectations and they were my role models.

And I guess, [hi, good morning], and I guess when they got into their 80s, maybe that's when the neighborhood started to change, you know. The man that owned this building I guess tried to sell it. He couldn't sell it, and--so basically you had people coming in and getting government grants but then they weren't very--what's the word--

JONES: They were absentee landlords, or just investing--

KH: Well, they would get government money, but for example, at one point there 7:00were five sex offenders living next door. According to the federal government grant, they weren't supposed to have five sex offenders (inaudible 0:07:08.3). Basically, yeah, they're landlords. They don't live here. They live in other parts of the city, and I call it disrespect for the neighborhood. You know, they call it disrespect.

I think it's when she got in her 80s--she got in her 80s, my parents got in their 80s. I guess they just weren't able to be as vibrant as they were when they were going back and forth to work every day. That lady over there, she was a school teacher. She and her husband have been dead for years now. There's an empty lot now--that lady was a school teacher, and the reason that lot is empty is because--we don't know for a fact, but we think it was a meth house.


Well anyway, at 2 o'clock in the morning or thereabouts, the house burned. The one in the middle burned and the fire was so intense, it burned the houses on either side. So now we have three vacant lots. One of those houses that burned, that was a school teacher, and I knew every one of them, and they knew every one of me and my brother.

My parents planted this tree, this holly tree, and it used to be so little. When my brother and I used to run around the yard, we could throw snow over it. It used to be--look, it's taller than the house now. This is my family history.

MJ: So with this new latest revitalization effort, have you seen--is it give you hopeful? Are you hopeful or have you seen any signs of improvement?


KH: Well, revitalization in the West End usually means tearing down the history and putting up something else. We've already seen that happen when they tore down Old Walnut Street for a freeway. So revitalization for us is not revitalization. It's destroying, that's the way I look at it.

And right around the corner is the I. Willis Cole House. Well, the city tore that down. It has a historical marker, but right now it's a vacant lot with a historical marker in front of it. My father knew I. Willis Cole. He worked with I. Willis Cole up out at--and I. Willis Cole was one of the first publishers of the black newspaper here in Louisville.


MJ: Louisville Leader?

KH: Yeah, Louisville Leader. Yeah, yeah. My father remembers the night that Aaron Cole--I. Willis Cole's son was born. See my father worked in the post office. A lot of black men worked in the post office because that was the only job they could get. And my father used to talk about you had doctors, lawyers, all kinds of black men with all kinds of degrees, but that was the only job they could get was at the post office. So my father worked at the post office.

Next door to that lady there, there was another teacher, Alice Stringer. So that lady is dead. This lady is dead. My parents are dead. The funeral home has been converted to a private residence. I never met the doorman at the Brown Hotel. I don't even know his name. I never met him. My first job was at the Chestnut Street West End Branch Library, right there on 10th and Chestnut. And that was the first library that black people could use here in the nation. (coughs)


What people don't seem to realize is they wanted a library for black people, and they had back then the libraries had different designations: A, B, and C. And that had the designation of C, and people thought it stood for colored, but it didn't. It really didn't. What I'm saying is local leaders, and it was Mary Alice Dearing, and her husband was Judge Dearing, they called the NAACP in New York and they sent none other than Thurgood Marshall down here.

Thurgood Marshall filed a suit and that library got opened. And keep in mind, Thurgood Marshall was the only attorney they had. So he was always on the road, going here, going there, going there. No one seems to know that. That's the other thing that's really bothering me. No one seems to know this. The only reason I know it is because Mary Alice Dearing said it in a meeting, that history is not being written down.


The history we have is being torn down--that's another reason why I refuse to leave my home when this is my home. Even though when I graduated from college, I asserted my independence and bought a house somewhere else. I never left here. I was always here and I refuse to sell this house. This is my home. That church on the corner there, that was a Catholic Church. The Catholic Church closed and my father was the deacon there at the Catholic Church.

MJ: Which one was it?

KH: St. Charles Borromeo and they renamed it St. Charles Lwanga after an African martyr.

MJ: That's been one way I've been able to kind of track where people are, through the churches and the funeral homes. So later this week, I'm going to meet with the Ratterman family, because they started out in Russell.

KH: Oh did they? Okay. I wasn't aware of that.


MJ: The first funeral home was at 21st and Market.

KH: Is it still there? There's a Ratterman's on Market right now. Is it still there?

MJ: I know that they have a building there because that's where we're going to meet. They were going to--I know at one time, they were using at least the top of it for a music studio because one of their kids is a music producer.

KH: Okay, I wasn't aware of that.

MJ: In the beginning, this neighborhood had a lot of Germans and Irish too--and African Americans all living in close proximity to each other because you had to 14:00walk everywhere, (laughs) so they could move out. And so George and Herman Ratterman, the ones that started their family business, they came from Germany in the 1850s, and they set up on 11th and Green Street. And they were cabinet makers, but during the Civil War, they became coffin--they started making coffins.

HIGGINS:Coffin--made coffins.

MJ: And then George's son, John, became the first funeral home director, and he had twelve kids and he set them all up in the funeral home business.

KH: You know Cletus Ratterman, the Rattermans are Catholics, Cletus Ratterman was one of the deacons I told you my father at the time he died was the oldest Catholic deacon, and so I knew Cletus Ratterman. Yeah, he died right before my father did.

MJ: A lot of the churches, like St. Peter's was a German reformed church and 15:00things like that. So I've been talking with a lot of German (laughs) like church experts and things like that.

KH: Well the man who owned this building was Mr. Worth. He was German.

MJ: Oh okay.

KH: And he was a cobbler, and he was the one that owned this building. He doesn't own this building any more. But he was German.

MJ: And you see it once you look for it when you go around the neighborhood, you notice the--just the architecture and everything has that German element to it.

KH: Borromeo, I think that's German. I think St. Charles Borromeo, I think that's a German saint, yeah.

MJ: Okay. So where did you go to school? Where did you go to college?

KH: I went to college--I went here, the University of Louisville. Go Cards!

MJ: (laughs) Did you go to Central High School, or --

KH: I did not go to Central High School. I'm Catholic, I went to Sacred Heart (inaudible 0:15:58.7). Yeah, I'm Catholic. By the time it was time for me to go 16:00to elementary school at the St. Charles--the St. Charles school had closed so I wasn't able to go to that. St. Augustin right there on Broadway was a church established in 1864, I think for the slaves or the newly freed slaves. And so we were there for a while. [barking - Okay, we're talking. Adults are talking. I don't know what he's barking at.]

MJ: Yeah, the black Catholics don't really get a lot of attention in the histories I've noticed.

KH: Yeah, and that's unfortunate. Well and part of it is the Catholic Church withdrew from Russell. They sold this church. They sold St. Benedict over there 17:00on Osage. They do have St. Martin De Porres on Broadway, but you know that's one of the things I say when the churches leave and the businesses leave, basically other elements start to creep in. And that's one of the reasons why I refuse to leave. I'm pushing back. I'm pushing back.

When I was in school, I used to walk to church. Every Sunday, my father and I would walk to church every Sunday, and then in the summer, I'd go to mass every day at 5:30. I'd just walk to mass. But I don't have that opportunity. The church is closed. The church is closed. So basically I did a talk on poverty April 18th of last year and I talked about the poverty of spirit.

Basically when the churches leave the community and like I said, it's get backfilled with something less than Godly. And the whole thing is, with tearing 18:00down and all that kind of stuff, you look at places like Old Louisville. They were saying--right now they're tearing down Beecher Terrace and rebuilding it however.

They wouldn't have torn down Old Louisville. They would have rehabbed it and refurbished, and that's what they did. They would not have torn it down. But they tore down Beecher Terrace. Basically they destroy and they come back with something that's unrecognizable.

MJ: I've actually--I'm writing a story about the Castleman statue controversy, and people are talking about destroying history. So when I talked to (inaudible 19:000:19:03.3), "They destroyed Walnut Street," they didn't--

HIGGINS:Yeah, they destroy black history all the time (laughs) and think nothing of it. At least not good enough anymore. We're going to. And it would be one thing if they came back with something that resembled or like sometimes they keep the facades or sometimes they rebuild something that looks exactly like what it was before but it's updated. No, they're coming back with something that's not even recognizable from what I can tell.

With Chestnut Street the Western Branch Library, I need to get for the story where Prince actually gave them some money once. Yeah, everybody seems to know that story, but nobody knows about the Thurgood Marshall story. The history is not being written down. It's not being recorded, and I keep on saying, "You really need to talk to Mary Alice Dearing, I know she's 90+--

JONES:Oh, is she still around?



JONES:I would love to talk to her.

HIGGINS:Yeah, Judge Dearing's--Judge Dearing's wife. You need to talk to her, because no one seems to know the story.

JONES:Do you know her number, or--

HIGGINS:No, and I never knew her personally. I just happened to be in the room with her when she was telling the story, and I went, "Wow. I never knew that."

JONES:Oh okay, well I will reach out to her because I have some other people I need to talk to.

HIGGINS:And I like I said with her, time is of the essence. She's 90+. (laughter) She's 90+. And then you talk to the staff at Western Branch Library now, and they have a completely different story about who started that branch and it's probably some white people or something, but, you know.

JONES:Well Mazik gets all the credit for it.

KH: Well the NAACP was involved, and Thurgood Marshall came down from New York to Louisville and filed suit. And like I said, Mary Alice Dearing says it, so I don't think she's making that up. In fact, she was probably part of the citizens that called the NAACP. [Look at that dog.] The NAACP and said, "Look, we need some help down here." And they sent Thurgood Marshall. Now that's a part of 21:00Louisville history that--I think about the first black librarian at Louisville Free Public Library and that was--

MJ: Thomas Balou?

KH: No, she and my mother went to school together. Oh, I can see her face. Barbara--Barbara Miller. Barbara Miller, she's dead now. You think during Black History Month, they would at least put her picture up, but no, they don't put her picture up. She's one of those hidden forgotten features. She was called the "Story Lady," and I used go to Story Time at the Main Library.

Barbara Miller, she and my mother were in college at Nazareth, and let me tell 22:00you, when my mother came to Louisville when my father was in the war at Fort Knox, she went to Nazareth because she couldn't have gone to University of Louisville. They had Municipal College which was segregated, so she went to Nazareth. So that's the Catholic Church which has a history of educating African Americans. So it was her, Lucille Allen, Barbara Miller, they were all there together.

MJ: Oh, okay.

KH: I mean those were the people that were my black history. I mean, I'm just talking about the last generation, not two generations ago, I'm talking about my mother and her friends and people she was in college with.

MJ: Well you're a wealth of information. (laughs)

KH: I'm just talking about--I'm just talking about my history, my life, and they 23:00all happened right here on Chestnut Street. When I went to University of Louisville and got my business degree and my engineering degree, I drove back and forth from this house. I drove back and forth from this house, and I got my engineering degree and I went to Business School at night and it was cold and it was dark and I'd come home.

My father was sitting there in the front and I would sit there and read my mail and knit and all that kind of stuff. It happened right here. You know it's all happening at the zoo, it's all happening right here at 2605. [Good morning.]

MJ: Was it--there's not a lot of female engineers now. So was that a struggle, like being--

KH: Oh of course. Of course. It was a funny engineering story. I was a chemical engineer and there were two other black women, and the (inaudible 0:23:56.4) University of Louisville is separate from the rest of the engineering school. Well if you go to the University of Louisville, you've got Eastern Parkway and you've got all of U of L on this side of Eastern Parkway. On the other side of Eastern Parkway, you've got Speed School.


So first of all, you've got the Eastern Parkway divide. And then the Chemical Engineering Building has its own building apart from the rest of Speed School (laughs). So anyway, there were only three black women when I went to Engineering School in the Chemical Engineering Building. The other two were a year ahead of me, and they chose not to speak to me, for whatever reason.

(Inaudible 0:24:28.1) I was interesting, but you know, that's the way feel, that's the way it is. Go for it. (laughs) But they chose not to speak to me. And if you saw that movie Hidden Figures, remember they were talking they had to go to another building to go to the bathroom, actually I have my own bathroom story. When I was in engineering school, (coughs) I've got allergies and I've got pollen in my throat.

MJ: Do you need a cough drop?


KH: Do you happen to have one?

MJ: (Inaudible 0:24:57.5).

KH: Oh thank you.

MJ: I have the same problem. (laughs)

KH: Right, right. So anyway, in the Chem (inaudible 0:25:05.0) Building, there was only one female bathroom, and it was on the first floor. And that was for the secretaries. (laughs) And so you've got a three-story building and you've only got one women's bathroom and that's on the first floor. So got to plan ahead. Then I went to my first job after I got out of engineering school, and we were in Watterson Towers and we had four floors--I think nine through eleven or nine through thirteen.

The floor where I worked on, they decided that there were too few women and too many men, so they changed one of the women's bathrooms into a male bathroom. So they had two women's bathrooms so if I had to go, I had to either go up or go down. So I had my own bathroom stories.

MJ: (laughs) So what company did you work for?

KH: It was (inaudible 0:25:55.3) at that time.

MJ: Oh okay.

KH: It was a consulting firm. It was my first engineering job out of college.

MJ: So did you end up retiring from engineering, or--


KH: Well, I retired from Louisville Water Company after I worked there for 21 years, and I'm a financial adviser now. And people are like, "Well how did you do that?" Well I have a degree in chemical engineering. I have a degree in finance. When I got both of those degrees, I wanted to combine the two and go into management. I worked for a utility which was very conservative, and that didn't happen. It didn't happen.

So I thought, "Well, I can keep on doing what I've been doing or I can use this degree which I've never used." Funny story about--was not funny, story about local water company. At one point, I was working for a man who had no college at all. He was a high school graduate, and he made the same amount money I did and he was my boss.

And the thing about it was he could have got his college education for free because his father was Dean of the Music School. He could have gone there for 27:00free. And I told my father about that and my father said, "That's just the way it was 50 years ago in the post office." That's the way it was 50 years ago in the post office. And that was one of the things I've talked about when I've talked about poverty this time a year ago, April 18th, a year ago.

Basically I have two college degrees, I have all this, but I get to work for a white man who makes the same amount of money. Didn't do any of the investment that my parents did. So that created a poverty of--just poverty, period. Now I had a nice engineer's salary, but he had an engineer's salary with no engineering degree. He didn't even have a fiscal education degree. He had no degree. None. None.

One time they did a posting for a job when I was still at the water company and they wanted a certain--what do you call it--designation. I didn't have it so I 28:00didn't apply for it. Well, they awarded the job. Low and behold, the person they awarded it to, a white male, didn't have that designation either even though they had it in the posting. And I said, "Well wait a minute, I thought you had to have blah-blah-blah-blah-blah." "Oh we're going to give him a year to get it."

No they didn't say that you're going to give him a year. So guess what, they gave him a year. He still didn't get it. I think he couldn't get it or he flunked it, and he kept that job for a year and a half without having the designation that posting. So it's institutional racism, it really, really is. It really, really is. And that's in my lifetime. That's in my lifetime.

MJ: Well you know redlining is still going on.

KH: Oh yeah.

MJ: I see it especially in the insurance rates.

KH: Precisely, you know I've had a heck of a time trying to insure this house, 29:00and that's one thing I have to work on. And like I said, I have my job, I have my clients. So this is something I do on top of everything else. They want to say, "Well we don't want to insure your house, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah." So there's something called the Fair Plan--I don't even understand the Fair Plan, but it's something that they've instituted for the West End of Louisville.

And basically it's to disenfranchise people. So if something terrible happened over here, basically I would just suffer a loss. I'd get a little bit of money, but I wouldn't be able to get what I need to rebuild this house. But they told me that's all I can get and I haven't had a chance to dig into it. Like I said, I still have a job, but you're right. There are different rules for the West End. There are different rules for the West End.

People are like, "Oh you can just do"--no you can't. I live in St.--have a house in St. Matthews, I have this house here. I live in both places. I'm in both places every day. The difference is night and day. There are different rules for 30:00the West End.

MJ: Well I had a niece who--she lives with her father and she was trying to get insurance in her name, and it was going to be too high--

KH: Car insurance or house insurance?

MJ: Car insurance.

KH: Oh yeah.

MJ: And she did a quote using my address in the South End and it was almost half as much.

KH: Yeah. Well Jessica Green, who's a counsel person, she just go married. Her husband lived--I don't know where he lived--but he moved in with her, and his insurance--when he put because he lives with her now his insurance rate, like you've said, immediately doubled just by his address because now he lives with his wife. Same driver, same car, same everything. Same everything.

So you're talking about an area that's disenfranchised to begin with, but then that's the tax of being black. That's the West End tax. They're a lot of good 31:00people in the West End, but we're not getting a lot of support. I say they let things go in the West End of Louisville that they wouldn't let go on anywhere else. They wouldn't let go on anywhere else in Louisville.

They wouldn't let go on in Hurstbourne Lane, but they seem to think it's acceptable to do this in the West End of Louisville. Case and point, one of the many things, but when they were trying to do that methane plant in a residential area, you think that would have happened to Hurstbourne Lane? No. Nobody would have even thought about that.

That's disrespecting. That's disrespecting, and we know because of Rubbertown 32:00that the high instances of cancers in the West End of Louisville. I remember growing up in the summertime 10 o'clock at night, you could smell the neoprene in the air, and I'm several blocks away from Rubbertown. You know where Rubbertown is? But they were just dumping that stuff in the air. And there have been studies about health disparities and all of that. That's genocide.

MJ: Well that's all the questions I had. Is there something I didn't ask you about that's important? I'm going to try and get in touch with Miss Dearing.

KH: That business over there used to be a gas station. Now it's a liquor store. Russell needs to be rebranded, and I'm trying to work on rebranding Russell. I'm 33:00trying to stabilize my block. Unfortunately some of the people that move in, I'm talking about this house next door, they moved from other parts of the city because they had engaged in behavior that they cannot engage in in other parts of the city, so they come into my neighborhood and try to do that.

And then try to wrap it in, "Oh we're helping the neighborhood." Well no, not really. No not really. "Well we're helping the neighborhood." Russell is 96 percent white. That building is 99 percent--I mean, Russell is 96 percent black. That building is 99 percent white. What are they doing for the neighborhood? What are they doing? That house over there, that used to be--that used to be the teacher's house.

I mean we've got sex offenders and all that in there, but they're not even Louisvillians. They come from other parts of the state, from Florida and all 34:00that. So why are they ending up in my neighborhood? They're not on Hurstbourne Lane. No, they're ending up in my neighborhood. So we're not even serving--I don't know, I don't know how to describe it and some people will think I'm being disrespectful to people who are down on their luck.

That's not my intention at all. But if it wasn't good enough for your neighborhood, why is it good enough for my neighborhood? If it's that great, put it next door to your house. If you came from Mutual Prospect whatever because you couldn't behave in that way, what makes you think you should come in my neighborhood and behave in that way.

And I had a terrible time with the people next door coming and sitting in front of my house. Basically they don't provide them outdoor seating. Why I'm not sure? Well, that's not my fault. You provide your own (inaudible 0:34:56.3). I'm not it, I'm not running a sober house. So it's not that I disrespect people who 35:00are less fortunate, that's not it, but just some of the things that they--

MJ: It's the concentration of like sober living houses and things and one neighborhood.

KH: Well they're kind of fading out, but we had daffodils that my brother planted around that fire hydrant. I mean, three seasons of the year, there are flowers around that fire hydrant. They treat it like an ash can. I mean butt after butt after butt after butt. And I'm supposed to put up with that? I'm supposed to think that's okay? I'm trying to beautify the neighborhood. Did you see those two signs when you drove up on that vacant lot that said "Love Russell?"

MJ: Yeah.

KH: 1619 I guess had some kind of [barking - I'm talking]--some kind of project, so they were looking so hard, "Well put it on my lot." Okay, so we put it on my lot, but before that--before the election, we wanted people to vote so I had a 36:00sign up there that said, "Vote" and it was lit up at night. And then, I think it was late October, I had an outdoor light show just a pop-up public art display.

So I'm trying to elevate and uplift the neighborhood and bring back all the elements that weren't there and elevate and maybe people won't see it as a dumping ground. People won't see it as--I don't know. I don't know how would they see it, but it's not positive because that guy over there at one point had something on the Internet disparaging the neighborhood, and he doesn't even live here.

He's from New Jersey. He doesn't even live here. He doesn't know anything about the history of the neighborhood. And I did a little bit of research on him. He has a felony conviction out of Florida, so now if I had a felony conviction out of Florida, do you think I could go to Hurstbourne Lane and do all this stuff? 37:00No. No, but he can. So I don't know if I told you what you were interested in.

[End of interview][0:37:10.9]