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Michael Jones: All right. It is December 12, 19--or 2020. (laughter) I want to say-- (laughter). It's December--

Elmer Lucille ALLEN: 10. (laughter)

MJ: 2020. I'm Michael L. Jones with the Metro Housing Coalition's Unfair Housing Project, and I am interviewing Elmer Lucille Allen, who is--was the first African American chemist at Brown-Forman, and she is also a noted artist. How are you doing today?

ELA: I'm doing fine, sir. How are you? Glad to see you. (laughs)

MJ: Yeah, you too. (laughs) This has been a long day. (laughs)

ELA: I know. Okay.

MJ: So tell me a little bit about yourself like when were you born?


ELA: I was born in 1931.

MJ: And where did you grow up?

ELA: Well I grew up in two parts of Louisville. I grew up with my--I stayed with my grandmother a lot and she lived in Smoketown, but my original home is 1724 West Chestnut and I was there and my mother died there in 1966. So that was a--yeah.

MJ: So you grew up in Russell?

ELA: Yes.

MJ: What was it like then?

ELA: Well all you saw--other words, in those days, all you saw were African Americans and Jews, because Jews ran all the grocery stores. And every now and then, I would go and pay my mother's rent uptown, and I would catch the bus and then I would go to see a white person. But you really didn't see white folks during those times.

MJ: Was it like that in Smoketown too, when you went to see your grandmother?

ELA: Yeah, well my grandmother lived one block north--south of Broadway, which 2:00was Finzer Street. And so that whole from Finzer over was African American. And on the other side of Broadway, it was primarily white.

MJ: So was there any kind of tension? What was your relationship with the white people that you encountered?

ELA: Well other than speaking to them, you didn't have any relationships with them.

MJ: Where did you start school?

ELA: I went to school at Western Elementary School which was at 17th and Magazine, and it's now called Prairie Elementary, I think now.

MJ: So what was your family life like then?

ELA: Well we lived in a--my mother rented her house, and that house is now burned down. It was a 3-story brick house, and she rented and in those days your people rented rooms. So we lived on the first floor, and my mother had rented 3:00rooms to men on the second and third floor. So we weren't allowed to go on the second and third floor.

MJ: So I wanted to ask you about your name, because Elmer is a unique name for a woman. How did that come about?

ELA: Well my father was named Elmer, and I was the first born and then I have a brother that's named Elmer. And then I have a nephew that's named Elmer. So there are four Elmers in the family.

MJ: Okay, what was your father's full name?

ELA: Elmer Johnson Hammond, Sr.

MJ: And your mother?

ELA: Ophelia Helen Gwinn Hammond.

MJ: And what was your brother's name, since he was an Elmer too?

ELA: Well he was Elmer Johnson, Jr. And my nephew is Elmer Johnson Hammond III.

MJ: So how did you tell each other apart when people were calling "Elmer"? (laughs)


ELA: Well, we didn't use our first names. Other words, we called my brother Bud, and they called me Cile, not Lucille, but Cile, C-I-L-E.

MJ: What was Russell like back then as far as what you did for entertainment? What your parents were doing for a living?

ELA: Well my father was a Pullman porter, and then when he was laid off from being a Pullman porter, he was a taxicab driver for the Empires Taxi Company. That was between 6th and 7th on Walnut Street then. And my mother was a maid and a cook. No, that was what they did for a living.

MJ: Being a Pullman porter, that was considered to be a good job back in those days, wasn't it?

ELA: It was a good job, but it wasn't a seven day a week job. No, they would 5:00call him in to work. So like I said, when he wasn't working there, he was driving a taxicab.

MJ: You said your mother worked as a maid? Was that common of the women in your neighborhood?

ELA: Well in my neighborhood, other words, the neighborhoods at that time consisted of all types of people. In my next door neighbor at 1722 was a man named Mr. Calvary, I think, and he was a carpenter. Also, there was a policeman that lived on that square, and Miss Eunice Singleton who was originally married Atwood Wilson, she lived on there. So it was a mixed neighborhood.

Because all African Americans lived in the same neighbor--no, lived in that area. And across the street from me is West Chester Street Baptist Church. I remember when that church was being built. Let me charge my putting my battery 6:00on. I'll be right back.

MJ: Okay. So you were telling me about the church across the street from your house.

ELA: Well the man that built that church, some of them stayed at rented rooms from my mother. So it was just a different--and I didn't realize at that time that (inaudible 0:06:31.1) was to own homes. Because we never owned a home because we always rented at that--and we rented from this real estate agent was called Sticker, I think it was Sticker Realtor Company. Where I--and that was who she rented from.

MJ: While I mentioned that you lived in what we now call the Russell Neighborhood, was it called Russell when you lived there?


ELA: Oh, no. It wasn't called Russell then. It was just--it didn't even have a name. No, it was just called the West End. Because all your teachers--all the teachers lived, most--African the area really ran from 9th to 28th Street. That was all African American. And then there were a few people like Doctor Hammonds, he lived on the west side of 28th and Chestnut because, no, then it became River Park, later on it became River Park.

But it was primarily just all--and there have been teachers--all the teachers is like in that neighborhood. Mr. Lewis Brown, who taught at Madison, and Madison changed its name eventually to Russell. But it was Madison Street. It was Madison Junior High when I went.

MJ: What kind of things would you--with your family or the kids do for entertainment?

ELA: We stayed in our neighborhood. Like in the evenings, we would take a bath 8:00and sit on the front porch. We had a swing and you would sit on the front porch and talk to people. And we just--we more or less stayed in your own neighbor--we didn't go outside that neighborhood at all. I never went to Little Africa. And then we would go to Chickasaw Park, which was the only park where African Americans could go to at that time. And we didn't have a car.

So you had to catch--no, public trans--and public transportation then was streetcars. And then if you rode the streetcar, you had to sit in the back of the--next to the back of the streetcar.

MJ: Did you have theaters that you would go to?

ELA: Oh yeah, there were 30 African American theaters, but that was on Walnut Street. And you had the Grand and the Lyric, which were across the street from each other. And then you had the Palace, which was at 13th Street. And I remember GC Coxe, and what is so funny about GC Coxe is that I bought the house that--my grandson lives in a house that GC Coxe lived in, who was an artist.


And he was a manager at the Grand Theater, and you don't really realize how life--no, how life changes as you go along. No--and I did not realize who he was until later on in life as I got older and then--no, became an artist. And so, and the neighborhood that I live in now, I live in what you call Algonquin Gardens and that house which is where Mr. Coxe lived--built was 4407, and I owned that house and my grandson lives in that house now.

MJ: Well can you tell us a little bit about GC Coxe--yeah, GC Coxe?

ELA: Well GC Coxe is one of the first African American artists in the city. And he graduated from University of Louisville. He and Sam Gilliam and--I forget the 10:00other person's name--but they were one of the first--one of the few first African Americans who graduated from University of Louisville. He was just a well-known artist, and he was a painter. And also, I think he worked as a graphic artist at Fort Knox, I think.

MJ: How did you get into art yourself?

ELA: Well I didn't get involved--well, other words, sometimes you don't realize what art is. You know, you take sewing. Sewing is an art form, but you don't call it an art. And it's like when I went to school, I took my first sewing class at Madison, and my first outfit that I ever--first thing I ever made was a slip, and I made scallops around the edges of it, and it was all hand stitching. And nowadays, young people aren't taught that in school.

But at that time, I think the things that I learned that I do now, I learned in 11:00African American schools. Because I went all the way through--all black schools until I was a third year in college. So all my training, everything that I have, I have because I got from my teachers because my parents did not have a college--did not finish high school. So all I had--so teachers and your neighbors, they were the ones that influenced me. And your churches.

I went to Plymouth Congregational Church and Plymouth Settlement House. That's where I would go and take crafts. So you do a lot of things now when you look back, you don't realize what you have when you're little. And what you don't have.

MJ: What was the Settlement House like?

ELA: Well the Settlement House which has recently been sold by the Plymouth Congregational Church, it was just a meeting place and they had all kinds of crafts. You might need to research Plymouth Settlement House. Who actually started that. But no--and you had all types of crafts, cooking and everything 12:00was there and it was a part of what I did. Because I only lived a block from there. It was between--it was 1628 and I lived 1724 Chestnut.

MJ: You talked about your parents not having an education, was that something that they emphasized in you?

ELA: No, that was something--no, they didn't emphasize it, that was something you had to do. (laughs) You know, you had to go to school. And my brother and sister, they didn't even finish high school. So I had--it was something that I--although I'm still a learner. I'm a life-long learner. I just like the education environment.

MJ: So what was your sister's name?

ELA: Her name was Mary Elizabeth Hammonds and she died--she's dead and my 13:00brother just died this year.

MJ: So where are you in the children?

ELA: I'm the oldest.

MJ: Okay.

ELA: And I was 89 on August the 23rd.

MJ: Oh, congratulations. (laughter) So what high school did you go to?

ELA: There was only one high--there was only two high schools. Catholic High and Central High. And I went to Central, and it was at the old Central, which was between 8th and 9th on Chestnut Street. And if you--and do you have any pictures of that building now?

MJ: I think I've seen pictures of it.

ELA: Oh okay. And across the street from there was a famous photographer, Arthur Evans. His studio was across, and he was a--he, my father eventually divorced my mother and remarried. And that was part of that family.

MJ: Oh, he married into that family?

ELA: Yeah, he married her, yeah.

MJ: Okay. And so what was Central like then?


ELA: Oh, Central was--it was wonderful. It had Atwood Wilson was the Principal and Maude Brown Porter was the Assistant Principal. And that's it. All the students were black and all the teachers were black. African Americans or Negroes, whatever you called them at that time. (laughs)

MJ: Yeah, so what year did you graduate from Central?

ELA: 1949, 1949. Yeah.

MJ: What were some of the subjects that they taught?

ELA: When you sat down and think about, I took college credit courses. So I took--I took French. I took Latin and French. I took my first Latin class in the ninth grade at Madison. And then I took a year of French. I took three years of Latin and one year of French. English, Lyman T. Johnson was there and so--and I 15:00took Civics, took Music, and I look at myself now. I could not have talked to you in 1949 like I do now, because I stuttered all the way through high school.

And I was a second honor student and in order for me to say my speech, I had to go to Mrs. Kirkendall's class every afternoon and say one sentence at a time, and then I would come home and talk to a mirror. So I tell everybody, if you have a child that stutters, make him talk to a mirror. That's how I learned. Unless I'm really getting excited and nervous, I don't stutter.

MJ: And so is that something that you had dealt with all your life?

ELA: Twelve years, all through high school. Up until I graduated from high school. And graduation was at Memorial Auditorium. And like I said, you would 16:00just--anytime you would say something, I said, I said, I said. And it's embarrassing to you when you can't--know when you can't talk.

MJ: You talked about how in your neighborhood all the store owners were Jewish.

ELA: Oh, let me--oh tell you something about that. Also lived in my neighborhood. Lyman T. Johnson--not Lyman T. Johnson, but--let me get it right now. It's not Johnson, the first African American librarian who was at--that opened that--was opening Louisville was Western Library. His name was Thomas Blue, Thomas Blue.

Well he had two sons, Charles and Thomas. And they played the piano at all hours of the night, and at times you would get up and wonder, "What is going on," and it was them playing because they played the piano and they played the organ and 17:00all of that. But anyway, that was he was the first head librarian of Western Library. And now I am President of the Western Branch Library Support Association. And it's just funny how things mix.

On the northwest corner of 18th and Chestnut was Heller's Drug Store. And on the southwest corner was Fine's Grocery Store. And then at 16th and Chestnut was Garden's Food Store. And they were all run by Jews.

MJ: And what was the relationship like between the Jewish owners and the citizens?

ELA: Oh they were--I was a babysitter for the Hellers, and I would babysit Clarice. You think about--you don't think about because you don't have to remember who people were. And I babysat for her and I would take her to dance classes on Saturday. And then I would take her to Shawnee Park. I don't like 18:00Shawnee Park today because when I was babysitting, they did not want me to go to the bathroom.

Because the parks were segregated because the only park that African Americans could go to was Chickasaw Park. But people forget that there was also Sheppard Park, which was at 17th and Magazine. And there was a swimming pool there in that park. And my brother was a lifeguard there.

And also when you think about what's on Chestnut Street, during those times back in those days, there were a lot of black funeral homes, you had all black doctors, all black dentists, so they all lived within walking distance 19:00or--either on Chestnut or Walnut Street. And there was a funeral home across from the Plymouth Settlement House was called the Mumford Funeral Home. So you saw--you walked everywhere you went because you didn't have money to buy--pay to ride the streetcars.

MJ: Did you know the Blue family well?

ELA: Oh I saw them every day. I lived 1724. They lived 1723. So you saw (laughs)--and their mother would walk up and down the neighborhood, I can't think of her name, and she would crochet all the time she'd be walking. But like I said, you knew all your neighbors. I don't remember them by names now except a few of them. But you saw them every day.

And on Sunday--and when I say where to get dressed on Sunday, take a bath, and you would sit on your front porch, and so I knew everybody who went to Plymouth Congregational Church. Everybody who went to Westchester Street Baptist Church, 20:00and everybody that went to Asbury. If they were going east on Chestnut--so you spoke to them. We'd sit on the front porch and waved at everybody. Speak to everybody. And I still speak to everybody.

MJ: So did you stay in that--did your mom stay in the house on Chestnut after your parents got divorced?

ELA: Ah yes, my mother stayed there. I was born there and my mother--and she was--and she died in the same house, 1724. She never even--only had one house. That was that house and my grandmother's house where I stayed at 611 East Finzer.

MJ: What did you do after you went to--after you graduated from Central?

ELA: Well, you know in those days you had to go to African American schools because there was a day law that stated that blacks and whites, if you lived within a certain area, you could not go to a white school. So look up the day 21:00law. And so I went to--

MJ: I'm familiar with it.

ELA: Ah, you're familiar with it, okay. So I went to Municipal College for the first two years. And they had an all-black staff, and Dr. Parrish was there and a whole lot of other people. I forget all their names now. And when they closed in 1951, he was the only one that went to University of Louisville. He was the only one that went there.

But mainly, there was all survey courses and just plain--otherwise they were preparing you, and when they closed, I couldn't afford to go to U of L. So I went to Nazareth College and that's where I graduated from in 1953.

MJ: And it's Spalding now?

ELA: Yeah, that's Spalding now. But at that time, Nazareth was an all-girls school. It was a Catholic school and all girls. And eventually, I don't know 22:00what year that they allowed men on campus. But there was only two lay teachers on staff. Everybody else was a nun.

MJ: Yeah, you had mentioned earlier that there was a Catholic high school for African Americans too.

ELA: Well that was on 8th Street. That was on 8th Street on the north side of Walnut Street.

MJ: So was there a black Catholic population that these schools were mainly serving?

ELA: I don't know how that went. I can't speak to that because there was--it was St. Augustin, the church, which I eventually joined in 1951 but before this, I was a--and my mother was Catholic and my grandmother was Catholic. My grandmother went to St. Peter Claver, which is on Lampton Street, between 23:00Hancock and Jackson. And St. Augustin is where it is now, still at 13th and Broadway.

And I guess that's where they--and then, so that's where--I guess it's where the students came from but I don't really know.

MJ: When you went to Nazareth's, is that when you got into chemistry?

ELA: Well let me tell you. How did I get into chemistry? Well I got into chemistry mainly because when I left Louisville and that's for college, all I had had was survey courses. Survey in chemistry, math, and all that stuff. So when I went to Nazareth--when I went to Spalding--Nazareth now, now additional, you had to take 12 hours of philosophy and 12 hours of religion.

And so the rest of my courses that I took not knowing what--I took chemistry and math, and so when I graduated two years later, majority of my courses were in 24:00chemistry and math. So that's what I got, so I got a degree in general mathematics. Incidental education with a major in chemistry and a minor in math. But I didn't choose it, it chose me I guess. (laughter)

MJ: Was that the quickest way for you to get out just the--

ELA: Well in other words, I really wanted to be a med tech, because at that time, Nazareth had a med tech school. But I would have to have gone five years and I said no, I want to finish in four years. And so, but when I graduated from Nazareth, there were no jobs in Louisville for African American women. So my first job was as a clerk typist.

I applied for a civil service job, and my first job was as a clerk typist in Indianapolis at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Then I stayed there for a while, and then I worked at several hospitals as a med tech.

MJ: So where did you live when you were in Indianapolis? Was that the--


ELA: Well I lived with my auntie first on Shriver. And then I lived on 35th Street. But it was all on the north side.

MJ: Was it segregated in the same way that Louisville was?

ELA: Well, it was--more or less it was. Maybe, it was more--and then at that time, Indianapolis more or less ended at 38th Street. You look at Indianapolis now, I just can't really believe it. But when you went to 38th Street, no, it was nothing there really at that time. But so majority of the people in the neighborhoods were African Americans.

MJ: What was your job like? You said the med tech, what does that entail?


ELA: Well med tech, those are the ones that do all the analytical work in the hospital. That's what a med tech--now you draw blood and you run sugars. All the lab work, that's what you call a med tech. And I worked at General Hospital there, and then I worked in Methodist Hospital. And then they set up a new hospital called Community and I worked there, and I helped set up the lab there.

MJ: And what drew you to that?

ELA: Well I couldn't find a job. No, I went into med tech mainly because that's really what I wanted to be, I thought. And so I did that, and then when I lived there and I came back here in '58. And I was a med tech at Children's Hospital, and Children's Hospital at that time was where Norton's is now on the Florida and Chestnut. Which old Children's Hospital was in that building at that time.

MJ: So did you move back in with your mother in the old house--

ELA: Yeah, I moved back until I married. I stayed in with my mother, yeah.


MJ: So had the neighborhood changed in the time that you had been gone?

ELA: It hadn't changed that much, no.

MJ: Were you at this time when you were starting your career, were you also still interested in art?

ELA: No I wasn't interested--no, art wasn't mine--I didn't get interested, no, I didn't really interested. I might have been doing art, but I wasn't really--I didn't really take art up until the '70s when my children got grown.

MJ: So what year did--how did you meet your husband?

ELA: Well we're not going to talk about him. We're not going to talk about him (laughs). But anyway, but my husband--the father of my youngest child was Ray 28:00Allen, and he worked at Brown-Forman. But I didn't know when I applied for that job. I didn't get the job at Brown-Forman because he worked there. I'll put it like that.

Because when I left Children's Hospital, I've also worked at American Synthetic and I worked at Universal Louisville Medical and Dental Research and when I was there, I met a young lady whose uncle was over the Brown-Forman lab. And she was the one that told me to apply for a job. And that was in 1966. That's when I went there.

MJ: So were there a lot of African Americans, a lot of women in medicine in the scientific areas you were working in?

ELA: Well I worked for Dr. Philip Fukes Groner, and we did tests, but I think 29:00there was one in the lab where I worked, there was one African American and everyone else was white. And then the doctor was Jewish. But you know, no, it was a few but not a whole lot.

MJ: So I'd asked when you got married because I know that you had bought a house once you got married?

ELA: Yes.

MJ: I wanted to know about that experience, what it was like, and--

ELA: Okay, well before we--okay--before when we got married--we used to live on 39th Street. And so when we decided to buy a house, and at that time when you got past 28th Street, it was mainly all white. When you go down past 34th Street down, and when people, they were living out of the West End and so we wanted to buy a house and then they didn't want to sell it to us.


So we ended up building a house, which is what is now Algonquin Gardens. And this was once where the fairground was. And my address is Fairland Place. And that subdivision was built by--except the last four or five houses--Algonquin Gardens was built by James Turner. And it was built--the first homes were built in the mid '50s.

And that would be a good story for you to find out. I would like to know history--I don't know the history of it all. But it was built in the '50s. But I have a distant cousin who is his daughter-in-law. Her name is Devon Turner, Devon Duncan Turner. And she might be able to tell you more about that, because he also built Alford Gardens over off of 34th Street.

MJ: And so he was African American?

ELA: Yes, uh-huh, yeah.

MJ: So was the Algonquin Gardens--it was mostly black families?


ELA: It was all black families. It was all black families, and they were built by the people who lived in them. So we built--we built our house from the--in fact I still have my blueprint.

MJ: So you said the original house that you wanted to buy, the homeowner didn't want to sell it to you?

ELA: No, other words, they were white folks and they didn't want to sell their house. And so it ended up being better off, because we had the house built. I live in a tri-level, and I still live in the same house that I built.

MJ: Okay, and so you said you and your husband lived on 39th Street before you moved into your house?

ELA: Other way, we were renting a house on 39th, yeah, but then when we wanted to buy a house, so we ended up building a house. And then, like I say, I think 32:00about buying a house today, and buying a house then, it's totally different. The cost of a home, I think, homes then was between--was less than $25,000. And now, even though this subdivision, the houses now in this area are running around $100,000.

MJ: How did you finance your home when you had to build?

ELA: We got an FHA loan, and it was less than $200 a month. We couldn't hardly pay that--(laughs)

MJ: So you were working at Brown-Forman then?

ELA:Yeah, I was working, yeah--

MJ:Or both of you were at the time?

ELA: No, when I bought my house, I wasn't working at Brown-Forman--


MJ: Okay, your husband was.

ELA: --I was working at Children's Hospital. I didn't go to Brown-Forman until '66. And I moved in this house in '61.

MJ: So how was Children's Hospital then?

ELA: In fact, I just got through--I went last week, last Saturday, I went to Burnham Forest and this artist from Chicago, Gabriel Morris has an exhibition on ten women. And there are three of them African American women. And one of them is Dr. Grace James, and I met Dr. Grace James when she came to Children's Hospital.

But they were very--and when you think about the hospital and your work, okay, when you think about your hospital and how you meet people and you don't realize say 60 or 80 years later, this person is going to be recognized you know for 34:00their contributions.

MJ: Was the city still segregated then?

ELA: Oh, Lord yes, the city is more or less still segregated, as far as I'm concerned. (laughs) Because you know you talk about redlining and this, and as people have progressed, you know you drive, you know everybody lived then when they got better jobs, they left the West End and they moved to the East End.

MJ: And how did African Americans feel about this white flight? I mean did you think it was going on? Did you realize it was happening?

ELA: Sometimes you go through stuff and you don't realize what's taking place, you know, why it's taking place. Because the last four houses, the house that we live in was built by a white contractor, because evidently, their last four houses down here, they were not built by James Turner, and we live in one of 35:00those houses. I don't know if he ran out of money or what. But this Fey, F-e-y Contractor built my house.

MJ: So when you were--when you started at Brown-Forman and you're the first African American chemist there, were there people that were surprised when you showed up?

ELA: No, I tell people like I tell--telling people there that I did then is that I was hired to do a job and so we're going to get along because I was hired for the job that you're doing. And so I went in the lab--and Brown-Forman at that time was a little Brown-Forman. The only building that was there was between 18th and 20th Street. That was Brown-Forman then in 1960. And you look at it 36:00now, it's a worldwide company now.

And they just finished publishing their 150th anniversary book and they have a picture of me in that book in there. And the lab had four ladies in the lab. And the rest were all men, and I was the only African--and there were no--at that time, there were no women vice presidents, there were no women in professional positions at Brown-Forman, all at that time.

MJ: And what kind of work did you do?

ELA: I've always done lab work, analytical work. When I first went there, I analyzed which--you know, bourbon and whiskey is made of corn, rye, and malt. And I analyzed all the raw products. And on any job, you start at the ground level and then you move up. And you talk about computers, although I took my first computer class at U of L in 1962 where I did--where you did the teletype, 37:00and then I did what you did, the punch cards.

And then, that was all--and then I took a course at Speed in Fortran. But I was introduced to--I've been doing computers since '62. And you sit down and people say, "Will you still," I say, "Yeah, I do everything I've always done." But they started out with VisiCalc and then you got to Lotus and then now you have Excel. So I've done all of those.

MJ: And so when did you have your first child?

ELA:I had my first child in '55.

MJ:Okay, and so how many children do you have?

ELA: I have three, and now they're 60, 65, and 60.

MJ: And so were there challenges trying to have this career and also be a mother?


ELA: Well no, you take things as they come, and when you sit down and think about it is that you have to--you have to have--I enjoy doing community work. I've always done community work, because that was the way I was raised up. I was a Girl Scout back in the '40s in Smoketown at Grace Presbyterian Community Center. I think I sent you that picture. You have that picture of me.

MJ: Yes, I do.

ELA: But I've always been involved in community in the '60s. I just like community work and I'm still involved. Even though I have wear a mask, I'm still involved today.

MJ: And what schools did your children go to?

ELA: They went to Christ the King, and then they went to--my daughter went to 39:00Highland Junior High and she graduated from Atherton. And then my middle child was a slow learner, and he went to Mattingly School on Newburg Road. And then my youngest child went to--graduated from Western High School. And then my daughter went on and got--she went on to Kentucky State and then she went to Eastern and worked on her master's in physical education.

MJ: So as a parent, was Christ the King Catholic, if that's what--

ELA: Yes, it was Catholic.

MJ: Okay, I wondered how it was different for you being in all black schools going to your children's schools because I'll assume by then that they were desegregated, yeah.

ELA: Yeah, they had integrated. It was a mixed school, yeah. And they had nuns--white nuns.

MJ: And then they went to public schools.


ELA: Yeah, uh-huh. And then when I had a grandson and then he went to Saint X.

MJ: And a lot of--so like you said, you had a child at Atherton. Was that based on your address?

ELA: No, that's when you had to catch the bus and go there. It wasn't--JCPS didn't provide transportation. So she chose to--so she chose to go to Highland Junior High and then she chose to go to Atherton. You had apply to go to Atherton. And during those days, you had to pick the courses that your child took. So you were involved.

MJ: And so did any of your children have to deal with busing?


ELA: Michael, the youngest child, dealt with busing. But the middle child I took--he went to actually he was a slow learner. So he went to St. John's Church School and all like that. But he learned how to drive. He learned how to navigate. He's been riding public transportation since he was 6 and he's 65--be 65 this year, 65.

And he's still riding the bus, but he has been able to--I taught him how to read, how to ride the bus, he reads the newspaper, he'll call and say, "Mama, so and so and so and so." But I say he reads more--he can tell you more of what's going on than some people that have college degrees because he's--I taught him how to take care of himself. And how to be independent.

MJ: Well I just wondered if you were involved in any of the controversy around busing, any of those issues.

ELA: No, I don't getting involved in stuff like that at all. I sit back and watch, but I don't get involved. I sit back and watch.


MJ: So what organizations were you a part of because you talked about how you worked in the neighborhood?

ELA: Well I was the President of the Algonquin Neighborhood Substation. But I was--have been a member Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority for over 70 years. I'm still active in that, and I'm also involved currently with the West Louisville Women's Collaborative. I was one of the founders of that and that's a multigenerational, multicultural organizations, about 14 women and it's located in--their base course house is at 40th and Garland.

I'm also working with the Frazier Suffrage Committee, and I ran the gallery for 43:00Wayside Christian Mission from 2005 to 2017. And when I retired and they told me they didn't know that volunteers retired, I said yeah. (laughs) I retired. But I'm a perpetual because I go to school and I like to go to art, and a lot of things I'm involved in, it's written down. No, a lot of things I'm involved in. I forget all of things that I have done.

MJ: Well you said when your kids got older is when you start getting into art. How'd that come about? Was that a conscious decision?

ELA: Well in 1977, I took my first ceramic course at Seneca High School. And it was taught by an art therapist. And I still have those first two pieces that I made. One was its own little cup and another one was a frog. I made a frog and painted him. But anyway, but you someday you don't realize what all you have 44:00done or what are you doing, because this week, you know they have a mural on me at Hancock and on Jackson Street. Well anyway, the Kentucky Center's African American Heritage doing a Zoom on conversation, did I send you that link?

MJ: No, you didn't.

ELA: Well I'll send that to you. Well anyway, that was something. But I do a lot of things that I don't really realize--I don't realize what I have done. I also formed an organization called the Kentucky Coalition for African American Arts back in the '80s, and I had did that organization for 10 years. And when it dismounted, I gave the money out of the treasury to the Little Arts Council.

In every group that I'm in, everything is free. Never about charge--everything is always free. And we had art classes and also we had with the Kentucky--also I 45:00did two conferences, brought people in, and so I've just done a lot and sometimes I forget what all I have done. (laughs)

MJ: Well what inspired you to take that first ceramics class?

ELA: Oh I don't know, I just wanted to be involved and do something with my hands. I had arthritis and they said if I could use my hands, that would help it. So that's really how I got into ceramics. And then when I took that class, and then I went to--it's a mold making, where they have Christmas trees and everything made and stuff like that. So I took that--I took years of that, and then they said--so then I decided to go to--you've heard of Metro Arts Center?

MJ: Yes.

ELA: Well anyway, I decided to take a class there. So I took a class in ceramics, I took a class in fiber. And the person who was teaching it was a 46:00graduate student in University of Louisville. He was working on his master's. And so I went there and we only had one car, so I had to catch public transportation. So in order to get to class, I would bum a ride with somebody who worked at Brown-Forman who lived out Dixie Highway to take me.

And then somebody from Metro Arts Center would bring me in to where Dunkin' Donuts is, which is where the 18th Street bus stopped. But I did that, and then while I was there, another person who was at U of L was there named Laura Ross. And she said, "Well why don't you take class at U of L?" "Oh," I said, "I hadn't thought about that."

Well then I took a class--then I enrolled at U of L, and I'm still enrolled in U of L and it's 2020. And so I was in class yesterday. (laughs) So I'm a life-long learner. So anyway, in 2000 I decided to get my--actually decided to get a 47:00degree and in order to get a degree in ceramics, I had to take another studio course in fiber. And then I took African American history.

And so I got a master's in 2002 from U of L. Though I'm still doing ceramics and doing fiber. I have my own studio for my fiber, but I haven't been up there but Covid because it's in Mellwood Art Center. So I haven't (inaudible 0:47:29.9) in any closed spaces.

MJ: You said your mom's house burned down. When did that happen?

ELA: That happened after 19--she died there in '66. It happened sometime in the late '60s early '70s

MJ: And when did you start noticing that the West End was changing?


ELA: Well other words when people started building--moving like when you think about Southwestern Parkway. You remember all the--know Dr. Robinson and LT Duncan who was my cousin who was with the Mammoth Life Insurance Company. All the African Americans were building on Western Parkway between Broadway and (inaudible 0:48:22.7) Rose Way.

You know that's where Roscoe Bryant who was a doctor, and there's a lot of doctors and lawyers were building there and I think, "Look I can meet," it might have started from there and moved up. But then I remember those homes there, down there.

MJ: But were you around for urban renewal?

ELA: Oh I remember when they tore down Walnut Street, yes indeedy.

MJ: What was the feeling in the community then--in the African American 49:00community when that was going on?

ELA: You know, it was something because the theaters were there. And that time, you had--at 6th and Walnut Street, you had the Mammoth Life Insurance Company on the right hand side and then you had the Domestic Insurance Company on the left hand side. And you had Grant on the left and you had the Lyric on the right. And it was all--and then you had the Empire Taxi Cab was on that block. But they were all--then when you walked down--you had all black businesses.

Like the Kings had a fish place, but you were able to walk, and I walked Walnut Street all my life. And I never was afraid to walk, because my mother said always speak to people and pat a dog on the head. And so I'm still speaking to people.

MJ: So was Beecher Terrace there when you were growing up?


ELA: Yeah, Beecher Terrace came up--they came up in the '40s. So I had cousins, I had relatives who lived in Beecher Terrace. And a lot of things, and a lot of activities took place at Baxter Community Center.

MJ: And so it wasn't a place you were afraid to go or--

ELA: No, I wasn't afraid to go, no.

MJ: What kind of people lived there? You said you had family there?

ELA: Well it was regular people that lived there then. And you didn't have Section 8 at that time. I think Section 8 has caused a lot of places to go down. You had people who actually--if you ask anybody--talk to Kevin Fields at Lois 51:00Lynch Community Center which I volunteer, I'm a committee member there. He'll tell you he grew up in--so a lot of people would say this is where they got their start.

I remember when Sheppard Square was built. Because at that time, people were living in alleys and when you sit down and think I can talk about my grandmother, my grandmother didn't have hot and cold running water. She didn't have a toilet. But this is the way I grew up so I can identify with people in--

MJ: Where did your grandmother live?

ELA: 611 East Finzer. And that is the only house--that is one of four houses that are still remaining on that block. And when the young man--the artist that was doing the mural on me on Jackson Street, we went over and I stood on that front porch and he took a picture of me on that porch. And the people that were 52:00renovating me wanted me to go inside. I said, "No, I want to remember it as it was when I grew up."

Because like I say, we took a bath in a tin tub. And you had an outhouse. You raised chickens in the backyard. She raised turkeys in the garage. And my best girlfriend, we played together and we end up working at Brown-Forman together, her name was Loretta Eaves, and her name ended up being Loretta Manson. And on that mural, she's the one that's pictured with me on that mural on Jackson Street.

MJ: Was your grandmother from Louisville? Is she--

ELA: Well she was from Lebanon, Kentucky.

MJ: Okay.

ELA: Lebanon, Kentucky. She was more or less a housewife and my grandfather worked at a Cook Rich--Cook Rich was out somewhere--I forget the name of the Cook, but he worked at a Cook Rich.


MJ: So when did you like realize that like the projects and all that, Beecher Terrace were not the same as where you grew up?

ELA: Well you know when you think about it, when I grew up, there were alleys and people lived in alleys. That was their permanent home. And then you had--people had newspaper for wallpaper. No, they didn't have wallpaper they had newspaper for wallpaper. And they had outhouses. And so you sit down and think when they move when they built the projects, you had hot and cold running water, you had a bathroom, you had a kitchen, and you had your bedroom. So it was--

MJ: It was an improvement. Yeah.

ELA: It was perfect. Well now, and as it's gotten old as it aged, it went down 54:00because people took advantage. Because once people got--my girlfriend, I'm talking about Loretta Manson, her and her husband lived there. And then they built the house on Walnut Street, 29th and Walnut. So as people stayed there and they saved money, then they moved out of the projects and they moved into their own homes.

MJ: So I wanted to talk a little bit about Nazareth's because I know a lot of the--your classmates there were also accomplished African American women. I know Katheryn Higgins, whose mother was one of your classmates. I think her name was Elnora?

ELA: Well also, talking about--Nazareth's was the first school in Kentucky that integrated. And I last two, three years ago, so four years ago, I helped establish a scholarship for the first two African Americans and the scholarship 55:00was called the Patricia Lauderdale Barbara Miller Endowed Scholarship, and it's for African American women. So it's now totally endowed now. But when I went there, they graduated in '51, I graduated in '53.

But when I went there, everybody in your class was white. And I remember going--we went to class. Also I was a secretary when we graduated, and we wanted to have a party and the only place that we could have a party was at the Knights of Columbus because everything was segregated back in 1953. So there's a lot of things that I've gone through and I forget what all I have gone through it--that I have experienced.

MJ: So what was your relationship with your white classmates at Nazareth?


ELA: We got along. I get along with everybody. And most of my friends, people that I knew, most of them are dead now. And I remember when we went somewhere and we stopped to eat and they wouldn't feed me and I was in the car with them. So nobody ate so we came on back to Louisville.

MJ: So you socialized with them and--

ELA: Yeah, uh-huh.

MJ: --did different things. I wanted to ask you about--you talked about all the arts organizations that you were a part of, and that all came from your interest in taking that ceramics class?

ELA: Yeah.

MJ: So what was your first art group that you became part of?

ELA: I guess the very first group that I became part of was the Kentucky 57:00Coalition of African American Artists. And that was in '81. And you remember when Ken Clay had Renaissance Arts? Do you remember that?

MJ: Yeah.

ELA: Well anyway, he had a conference and I forget where it was. But anyway, this organization was founded after that conference. And it was statewide. That was the very first and then I've just been involved with things after that. And being in that organization, I became involved with the Kentucky Arts Council and places like that.

MJ: What kind of programs would you do with the Ken Clay organization? You say it was statewide?

ELA: No, the statewide was Kentucky Coalition of African American Art. But other words, it started because I attended the conference and then I met other people. Priscilla Cook who now lives in Birmingham, she was one of the people. And Donna 58:00Morton who now lives in Cincinnati. And then Bernard Young who was a Ph.D. lived in Lexington. And I forget the other fellow's name. But anyway, that was the beginning of the Kentucky Coalition.

But anyway, we taught free art classes at the YMCA, at the--it used to be a West End Y you know downtown, and at the Shawnee Community Center. But that's what we all. And then I would bring artists in to teach classes. And then there was also drum making and if you talked to Ed White he will say that he got influenced by the art class--by the drum making class that was taught in my organization.

MJ: Did you--you talked about the Y, did you go to the West End Y or your brother? Was it like a--

ELA: Well I'm going to the Chestnut Street Y, and then I've been on the board 59:00there--the Chestnut Street Y. And then they had the women's Y--it was at 4th and Broadway. I went there, my daughter went there for things. No, I've been going places for a long time.

MJ: And so when did you get serious about art? Like say that--you considered yourself an artist, that this was something you were seriously going to pursue?

ELA: Well I guess after I decided to get my master's, yeah, I did that.

MJ: And is it mostly ceramic? Because I know you've done other fiber art too.

ELA: Yeah, in other words in order to get my master's, I had to take fiber. But I really--fiber, otherwise I can do--I had to do ceramics in a studio and fiber 60:00you can take it--you can get on a bus or a plane and you can still stitch. And so it's something you can do anywhere. But I haven't done because after you get a design--in order to design a piece, you need a lot of space to lay it out.

So that's where I do all my--I have a studio at Mellwood Arts Center and that's where I really do all my dyeing and do my designing up there.

MJ: So do you see a connection between your scientific career, your artwork?

ELA: Yes, documentation. I write everything down that I do. Yeah, I have books and books and books, and I think it's important if you want to go back--and everything that I'm probably talking to you about, I got it written down somewhere. But it's important for you to go back--to be able to realize--other words, analytically. When you're a scientist, you have to write everything down that you do. So that carries over to everything that I do now.

MJ: I forgot what I was going to ask you for a minute. (laughter)


ELA: Okay. (laughs)

MJ: Well when did you retire from Brown-Forman?

ELA: I retired in '97 from Brown-Forman, and when I retired, they wanted to know what did I want them to do for me. So I told them I wanted to have an art exhibit. So my first art exhibit, my major art exhibit in ceramics was done at Portland Museum when I retired in February of 1997. And because of that exhibition, have you seen the book called Kentucky Women?


MJ: Yes, I have.

ELA: Well anyway, the lady who wrote that book, Eugenia Potter, she did--I'm in that book because of that exhibition. And we're still--she emails me still and this was in '97. And we're also members of the Frazier Women's Suffrage Committee. So we still email each other. And I'm in--I think I'm in five--with the book, I'm in five publications.

That one, and then The Kentucky African American Encyclopedia. I'm in 100 Fascinating Women. I'm in Portraits of Grace, and the 150th anniversary book for Brown-Forman. That was all the publications that I'm in. I'm in other magazines and stuff like that.

MJ: So was it a strange transition for you to become so celebrated? Like how do you explain all that adoration? (laughter)

ELA: I'm still the same. (laughs) It's like--in August, my birthday, and I 63:00received a call--a lady sent me an email congratulating me for something. And I didn't know why she was calling me because I did not know that I was one of the ten Kentucky women of the century. Did you know that?

MJ: No, I didn't.

ELA: (laughs) Well I'll send you that. But anyway, so it was published--I'll send it to you. But anyway, she called me and I was just stunned because what I do--what I do is doing things that I want to do. I give, I give, I happened to work one day and I don't make art. If I sell something--okay--but my intention for making art is for people to enjoy it and for people to come in and see it.

I'm no worrying about because I don't need--I haven't worked one day since I 64:00retired. And I just enjoy meeting people, and I enjoy going to openings and--I just enjoy people. I enjoy talking to people, and this past week, last week, do you know about that exhibit that's at Bernheim Forest?

MJ: No, I don't.

ELA: Well anyway, a Jewish lady out of Chicago was given a grant to do 10 Kentucky women. And she did ten women. She did three white women, three Jewish women, three African American women, and one Native American woman. And the three African American women were Dr. Grace James, Wilma Brown, and Alice Dunnigan. I'll send you that--

MJ: So are these portraits?


ELA: Well these are banners. They're hanging--let me tell you. (laughs) They're hanging--I'll send you all that information. Send me an email of what I'm supposed to send you.

MJ: Okay.

ELA: Their banner, other words, they're made out of--the lady made them--they're wood block prints. And then the Bernheim had them printed on polyester and encased. And they're now hanging in the Forest. And they're hanging in the Forest around Lake Nevin. And that lake is one mile around--and I walked that lake on Saturday. I took a picture of every banner that was--all ten women, I took a banner when--and one of the women is Suzy, did you ever know Suzy Post?

MJ: Yes I did.

ELA: Well anyway, I was with Suzy Post two days before she died. We went to dinner at this pizza place on Fairfax Avenue. And then I left to go to Florida 66:00the next day, and then she died the day after I got to Florida. But anyway, she's one of the women that's there. I'm going to send you a picture of the group, because the group--there are seven--so the artist who was a Jewish woman wanted to meet African American women so she could talk about what she did and why she chose them.

And so I got seven women together and we went Saturday and I got a group picture of all of us there at there. You know, but it's just nice for her, and I'll tell you how I met her was through Filson club. I donate some things to the Filson Historical Society and I had sent some things to archives and the lady--there 67:00was a Jewish lady there is doing archives on Jews. And so she was telling me that this artist had done these works, and so I said, "I would like to meet her."

So she said, "Okay, I'll call you when she comes." So I said, "Okay." So anyway, she came in October and I met her and we talked and she emailed me. So she said that she wanted to talk about experiences that she had because she came from Israel to United States and all the troubles that she's gone through. And so it was very interesting because one person who was on the tour was Madeline Hicks, Madeline Hicks, she's a dentist, do you know her?

MJ: No I don't.

ELA: Her maiden name was Maupin. Her daddy was Milburn Malpin. Well anyway she has been to ten countries overseas. And she has been to Israel. And she was able to talk to this lady about the things that she saw. And so it was very interesting and the lady ended up complimenting me for inviting these people. One lady--you know, there's a Grace M. James Academy here. So the lady from 68:00there, Melanie Page, she went on the tour. So I'll send you that information.

MJ: Okay, --

ELA: But you never know who you know that knows somebody. And then you get to meet them. But that was just by accident.

MJ: You had talked about the Jewish families that were in the neighborhood when you were young and babysitting for them. And so has the neighborhood changed? Did those families leave too, or did stores close?

ELA: Oh well see, well that whole neighbor--nothing is there that was there--there's no grocery stores there now. No, the church owns that whole property at the northwest corner--northeast corner. And then on the other 69:00corner, at 18th--southwest corner, it's a dry cleaning company now. And then at 16th and Chestnut, during urban renewal, they tore down all those houses down on that side of the street, you know. And that's where, I forget the name of that project that's there now.

MJ: You mentioned that you were a part of a West Louisville Women's--

ELA: Collaborative, yeah.

MJ: --collective?

ELA: Yeah.

MJ: And how did that come about?

ELA: Well how it came about, well it came about because--well we met, it was four or five of us. And there was a grant that we wanted to apply for called "Lots of Possibility Grant." So we applied for that, and so we were awarded $4,000 for that. So after that, we became an LLC, and then we became a 70:00501(c)(3). So with the $4,000--

MJ: Who were some of the other people involved with you in that?

ELA: Huh?

MJ: Who were some of the other people involved in that with you?

ELA: Ramona Lindsay, who was with the Community Foundation for Louisville now. That's maybe only one you know. But there are--write this down, Yeah, and you'll be able to see all the--we have a picture of everybody that's in that group.

MJ: And what year was that that you started--

ELA: That was in 2014.

MJ: Okay. And so you got together, you had to become a non-profit to get this grant?


ELA: Well we ended up becoming a non-profit. But we built--there's a labyrinth--we built a labyrinth with that $4,000. We built a labyrinth at 3831 on Hale.

MJ: Okay, and what's the labyrinth?

ELA: Well I'll send you a picture of that too. (laughter) In other words, this was created--it was created by Beth Haven, and it's there--there were eight--there are five big circles. And what we did, we bought blocks and we went around and we went to different organizations and we had people to write paint on bricks. And these bricks make up the labyrinth. You need to get by there and see it.

But anyway, but it's better in the summertime, because now it's--but I'll send 72:00you a picture of that. But anyway, we built--so the ladies built that and we had community help--all the people in the community did that. And the Dismas House helped us. But we had to tear down trees and stuff. But they own that property at 3831 Hale.

MJ: Why did you pick that area? Did you want--the group want to invest in that part of--

ELA: Well we'll go back even further. Okay. We'll go from there. Other words, that block between 38th and 40th Street, there is a church on the corner of 38th and Hale, and then there's a church on the corner of 40th and Hale. But in between there, there was an old house that's 3835 Hale and I bought that house and I renovated this house and this organization rents this house for $1--for 73:00$12 a year.

MJ: And so--

ELA: You have to ride by there. (laughs)

MJ: Yeah, so did you buy the house? What condition was it in--

ELA: I had it totally renovated. It's totally--paid cash for it. There's no loan or nothing--there's no lean on the house. It's totally--it's Elmer Lucille Allen. And they call the house the ELA house. But if you go on the website, you'll see it.

MJ: Yeah, how much did you pay for the house?

ELA: I think it was $10,000 or something.

MJ: So did you pick that house just because of the price, or did you want to bring something to that block?

ELA: Well I picked the house because it was a place that the ladies could have a meeting because it's all in the same block. The house is 3835 and, the labyrinth 74:00is 3831.

MJ: Okay.

ELA: So I had to renovate it, gut it down--took it down to the--took everything--I'll send you--in fact, if you go to the website, if you go to the property valuation, they have the original house still on there. (laughs)

MJ: Well that's all the questions I had. Is there something I didn't ask you about or something specifically to housing that you'd like to say?

ELA: Well what is so funny, people are--well I actually own four houses. Own my house, own the house my grandson lives in, and I own another house. So I own three houses in Algonquin Gardens. And I have a mortgage on one my grandson lives in. But the rest of them are free and clear.

MJ: Did you pay them off or were you able to buy them for--

ELA: Well in fact one, my son lived in one. And his rent paid for that one. 75:00(laughs) So anyway, I own four houses. And like I say, I haven't worked at all since then. And I sell very little art, so everything I do--well I'm always giving.

MJ: Are all your houses in West Louisville?

ELA: They're in my neighborhood. Yes, I can look out of my--I can walk around the corner to my grandson's house, and they're all in Algonquin. The three houses in Algonquin Gardens.

MJ: And so why do you think you've never like left the area? Is there something about the area that keeps you there?

ELA: Well why move? Other words, I couldn't--where I live now, I couldn't buy 76:00this house for what I paid for it. And now houses down here, in fact my grandson's house, I think I paid less than $60,000 and now it's over $100,000. So prices of houses are going up down here.

MJ: Why do you think that is?

ELA: Property value, property valuations.

MJ: Do you think like a lot--the revitalization efforts--that are going on, are playing a role in it?

ELA: Well actually I think--I would like to see more African Americans invest in the West End. First there's white folks coming in buying up all the property.

MJ: Why is that?

ELA: Well I want it to be--I want it to be integrated, but I think the African Americans, they need to invest--African Americans need to invest in property, period. They need to own--you need to own where you live. And if you don't own 77:00it, then you don't have a voice.

MJ: So do you think that's one of the problems that happened in the West End? Lack of home ownership?

ELA: I look at house--I look at all the vacant lots on Muhammed Ali--right there between 22nd and 24th Street. And all these houses years ago, you know African Americans lived in, and now most of them are torn down. But I see they're renovating the one right there on the corner--the alley--I take it 23rd and Muhammed Ali.

MJ: Great. Well thank you very much for your time.

ELA: Okay then, did you get enough? (laughs)

MJ: (laughs) I think we did.


ELA: Okay, well, I'm glad that you asked me to be on it. Like I said, send me an email on what I told you I was going to send you. Because I'll forget. And then I'll send them to you.

MJ: Okay. Thank you very much.

ELA: Okay, thank you. Have a great day. Bye bye.

MJ: Bye.

[End of interview][1:18:12.7]