The rise, fall and return of the Black Derby

The rise, fall and return of the Black Derby

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The spirit of the Kentucky Derby rattles through the state and the TV screens of the millions who tune in every year. However, not everyone celebrates the roars and chants in the stands.

Some west Louisville neighbors remember feeling that love and excitement, but over the years said it’s changed.

Neal Robertson remembers what experiencing Derby felt like when he was a child.

Neal Robertson
Neal Robertson (Source: WAVE 3 News)

“Engaging in harmony,” Roberston said. “For that one day and enjoy [our]selves. For that one day two minutes. Two minutes.”

It was known as cruising on Broadway or the Black Derby.

“The Screaming Eagles [hosted it] they had the motorcycles riding up and popping wheelies,” Robertson said. “Barbeque, I can remember the smell of BBQ. It was a beautiful thing, it was a beautiful thing.”

Standing at 28th and Broadway, one of the main starting locations, Robertson thought back to when he was 6 years old in the 70s.

“What I remember the most about being here, it took 40 minutes to get from Dino’s to Pizza Hut.” There’s just a block between the locations.

Locals and out of towners cruised down Broadway in their polished cars. Detra Bryant looked forward to the business that spiked on Derby Day at her family’s restaurant, Big Momma’s Soul Food Kitchen, at 4532 West Broadway.

Big Momma’s Soul Food Kitchen
Big Momma’s Soul Food Kitchen (Source: WAVE 3 News)

“Ohh yes, like you will see cars up and down all day long,” Bryant said.

Then it all stopped after violence reportedly caused by out of town visitors including a homicide in 2005. At the time the Louisville Metro Police Department said “it was not the way to enjoy Derby,” calling it unlawful and enforced the cruising ordinance.

Local businesses said they lost major revenue that supported their community.

When something doesn’t work, Robertson and Bryant said fix it, don’t throw it away.

“Those were beautiful times,” Robertson said. “They can come back because they haven’t left us, they’ve just been taken away.”

“Just leave it open for everyone,” Bryant said. “Don’t just shut down one part of town and leave one part of town open where they’re getting all the revenue and all the business. There’s sites and businesses to see here also if you just leave it open.”

Metro council members told WAVE 3 News the city wouldn’t pay for security for the event while confirming the city did pay nearly $900,000 for Churchill Downs security in 2019.

West Louisville families said six members from the biker group The Screaming Eagles created Cruising on Broadway for the same reason the community wants it back now.

“Because they were blocked out from experiencing Derby at the track,” Robertson said. “The reality of it is. There’s kids that’s not going to experience what I experienced.”

Robertson and Bryant both hope the magic felt at 700 Central Avenue can stretch back past the West of Ninth.

Robertson said the west Louisville community tried to bring Derby events to their community in 2020, however the coronavirus pandemic hindered their efforts.

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