LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – Smoketown is Louisville's only surviving neighborhood that reflects the continuous presence of African-Americans before the Civil War. That community thrived, grew and can boast about nurturing some of the most talented and famous Louisvillians.
We all know the story of Cassius Clay, a young Louisville kid who got his bike stolen. When he complained to a police officer that officer told him he needed to learn to take up for himself. Young Cassius was taken by the officer to a man named Fred Stoner who taught him the art, grace and technique to become the greatest.
What you may not know is where all that history started.
For 116 years Peace Presbyterian Community Center, once called Grace Hope, has been in the heart of Smoketown and in the hearts of all who lived anywhere nearby.
"It wasn't just known as you living in the projects. This was our homes. This is where families were raised," said Gloria O'Bannon-Grant, who is more commonly known as Mama Jeanie.
It is were those same hearts who loved peace Presbyterian Community Center are now breaking as the close the door to the historic center that reached out to all in need or all who had a dream.
"If we go way back and see what this community center has been, a token of light in this community and we need this community more than ever now," said Mama Jeanie.
Rhonda Washington Matheis knows the center is needed now just as much if not more than it was over a century ago.
"This is the heartbeat of Smoketown," Washington Matheis said. "Children still have a place to go to be fed, to be tutored, to learn to go off and have dreams – whatever they want to be."
A wall of fame as you walk in the doors is a strong testament to the foundation the center helped lay for folks known here in the city and around the world. Muhammad Ali, William Summers III, owner of the first African-American radio station, famed journalist Monica Kaufman, who recently retired in Atlanta, and Fred Stoner, the first African American to be named to the boxing commission and the man who put Louisville on the map in the sport and in the ring.
"Fred Stoner at Grace Hope and down in the basement they use to come from all over and then Muhammad Ali, he got him tied in," said Matheis.
Stoner believed in the kids - all the kids.
"Fred believed that girls could do anything - how to box with the boys," Washington Matheis said.
PCC now needs someone to believe in not only their history but what they are capable of doing for this community's future.
"We will fight to keep PCC here in the heart of Smoketown," said Washington Matheis.
Only one of Louisville's four heavyweight champions did not learn their skills at Grace Hope, now the Presbyterian Community Center.
Throughout its history the center has fed thousands of children, was responsible for thousands of Christmas celebrations and produced as a lot of folks the world has applauded including journalist Steve Crump professional football player Willie Lee Carter.
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725 S. Floyd Street
Louisville, KY 40203