In Kentucky, pride and courage are in our blood. They flow through the rolling hills of green to historic horse tracks and into the depths of Mammoth Cave. We celebrate all the men and women who make our commonwealth great, especially the African Americans who stepped forward to reshape our future and, in doing so, connected Kentucky’s heritage to one of our country’s bravest moments.
“Support the strong, give courage to the timid, remind the indifferent, and warn the opposed.”
— Whitney M. Young Jr.
Lincoln Hall at Berea College
These days, Berea College - just south of Lexington - is notable for being the country’s only top college that students can attend tuition-free. But, during the time of its founding, it was notable for helping change the face of American education.
Berea was founded in 1855, specifically to educate black and white students - together. It was a notion that, at the time, was downright revolutionary. Lincoln Hall, the second-oldest structure on campus, was built in 1887. The building of red brick and Kentucky sandstone (quarried from beds just 2.5 miles away) housed classrooms, laboratories, a museum, a library and a student body that was nearly 50% black.
When the Jim Crow doctrine raised its ugly head in Kentucky in 1904, Berea College fought unsuccessfully against the state legislature’s “Day Law,” which mandated segregation. It wasn’t until 1950 that black students walked the campus again. Soon after their return, the students put Berea’s commitment to integration to the test. In the 1960s and ’70s, they called for more African Americans on faculty and in the administration, and staged sit-ins in the president’s office in the hallowed Lincoln Hall.
You can experience Lincoln Hall’s rich history yourself at this National Historic Landmark on the campus of Berea College. Guided tours are offered Monday through Saturday, starting from the Boone Tavern Hotel Tourist Center.
To learn more about Berea and plan your trip, visit www.kentuckytourism.com/city/berea.
Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail
In downtown Louisville, Fourth Street was the main drag. The corridor of restaurants, department stores and theatres attracted citizens who wanted to shop, eat and relax. But not every citizen was welcome. The mostly white-owned businesses treated black customers differently. They couldn't try on clothes in department stores, sit at lunch counters or even enter the movie theatres.
In the 1950s, small demonstrations and attempts to bring new legislation on the matter failed. In 1961, however, the mass student demonstrations that would eventually sweep the rest of the South sparked in downtown Louisville. Brave young people put their bodies and their futures on the front lines and led the passage of the first public accommodations ordinance in Louisville - and the first in the South - as well as a landmark voter registration campaign.
Today, many of the businesses that were targeted in those game-changing demonstrations are gone. But there are 11 markers - a trail of blood, sweat, tears and courage - that preserve the history of what happened there and tell the story of one of Louisville’s proudest moments.
You can trace these historic footsteps on the Louisville Downtown Civil Rights Trail, where markers at 22 stops tell the story of this significant movement throughout the city. To learn more about Louisville and plan your trip, visit www.kentuckytourism.com/city/louisville.
The Whitney M. Young Jr. Birthplace
On the campus of what was once the Lincoln Institute, an all-black high school, there is a simple wooden house. There, in 1921, one of America’s greatest Civil Rights leaders was born.
Whitney M. Young, Jr. spent his life and career working to end employment discrimination. He would become leader of the National Urban League and transform the organization into one of the foremost catalysts for socioeconomic equality. His campaign for equality for the disenfranchised earned him the admiration of some of the most powerful leaders in the country, including Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, all of whom he served as an advisor.
Today, you can spend time exploring Young’s legacy at the house where he was born. After his death in 1971, the house was dedicated to his memory and contains photographs, articles and other memorabilia. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1984.
You can learn more about this pioneer’s contributions to the U.S. Civil Rights movement inside the two-story home where he was born. Located on the campus of Whitney M. Young, Jr. Job Corps Center near Simpsonville, it is also designated a National Historic Landmark.
To learn more about Simpsonville and plan your trip, visit www.kentuckytourism.com/shelbyville.
Take a Journey
Now, you can take a remarkable journey that lets you explore those moments, trace their path and walk in the footsteps of giants.
The U.S. Civil Rights Trail guides travelers through the places that were flashpoints for change in the 1950s and ’60s. From the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. to the birthplace of lunch counter sit-ins, the U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a unique travel opportunity. This is more than a trip. It’s a chance to explore the people and places that changed America and inspired the world.
We look forward to welcoming you to the Bluegrass State and our stops on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.