Black History Month: Louisville’s Smoketown Originals
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - WAVE News has had the honor to spotlight and celebrate so many stories in Black History Month.
As the first television station in Kentucky, our studios, offices, transmitters and tower were located at the WAVE Building at Preston and Broadway in 1948 right in the heart of Smoketown.
WAVE moved the newsroom to its current facility just a few feet away from the building at Preston and Broadway in 1959 to 725 South Floyd Street.
Dr. Michael Brooks and Dr. Lamont Gholston both grew up in the Smoketown neighborhood. They proudly boast of the schools and churches they attended in the neighborhood and all the opportunities they had as children.
In 2018 a group of childhood friends came together to create a group they call “Smoketown Originals.” The name points out that each member grew up and was raised in the Smoketown neighborhood. They have over 100 members.
Their goal is to foster pride and share the history and heritage of the place they called home.
“Right after the Civil War free slaves came up from the south and started migrating in Louisville, Kentucky in droves and settling right there in Smoketown,” explained Dr. Brooks.
Black families found their dream, building narrow rectangular homes with rooms arranged one right behind the other. Named shotgun houses, they lined the close streets of the tight-knit community.
”It’s the oldest continuously existing post-slavery community,” exclaimed Dr. Lamont Gholston.
Segregated Public Housing Projects began to provide low-rent housing to American families in 1942. Sheppard Square Public Housing Development was built in the historic Smoketown neighborhood, named in honor of Rev. William Henry Sheppard in 1942.
“During the 70 years of existence with the Sheppard Square Housing Project, it was the home of 22-thousand people,” shared Brooks. “A lot of successful people come out of Smoketown.”
The rent may have been low but their expectations were not. Brooks and Gholston stress that their parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and adults in their lives offered constant mentoring and care.
“I’m a product of Sheppard Square Housing Project and back then during those days we were poor, but we didn’t know we were poor because we had all the opportunities that were there for us growing up as kids,” proclaimed Brooks.
What they needed they found in Smoketown. Their minds were never idle because there was always so much to do and so much expected of them.
“A lot of the kids that grew up in Smoketown in fact almost all the kids who grew up in Smoketown went to Booker T. Washington Elementary,” boasted Brooks. “If they didn’t go there, then they went to Nicholas Finzer. When you finished Booker T. Washington Elementary School, you went right next door to Jackson Jr. High School.”
Access to everything they needed and even those things they just wanted.
“We had a library at that time,” explained Brooks. “It was called the Eastern Colored Branch Library. Several churches. There were so many things that we could do as children. Roller skating, softball, wrestling, boxing.”
“We had our own theater, The Dixie Theater,” shared Gholston. “It was a fairly complete entity as a community.”
The city demolished the Sheppard Square housing project in 2012 and for the rest of the neighborhood they called home, it too had already changed throughout the years.
“I don’t recognize the Smoketown you see on TV in Louisville,” explained Gholston who believed demolishing Lampton Park was the beginning of Smoketown’s problems. “That’s not the Smoketown I knew.”
“What’s offered to Smoketown today, there’s nothing there,” explained Brooks. “Nothing for the kids. That has just opened up the doors for crime. The residents of Smoketown know they don’t have the opportunities that we had.”
The Smoketown Original’s mission statement continuously strives to educate and support the Smoketown Community regarding its vast history and heritage. They formed the 501c3 to fundraise for scholarships, benevolence funds and anything else needed for their Smoketown community.
They have already held fundraisers for their scholarship program, which will be looking to award money soon. They also plan to offer expungement clinics, finance workshops and more.
To learn more about the Smoketown Originals, click or tap here.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
- Modestine Simpson Anderson
- Dr. Michael Brooks
- Mr. James Cross
- Ms. LaVita Jones
- Rev. Aubrey Kinzer-Short
- Ms. Sharon A. MaddoxMs. Rhonda Washington MathiesMrs. Gail Carr O’Bannon
- Brenda Frazier Shelby
- Mrs. Barbara Russell Sloan
- Rev. Aubrey Kinzer-Short, Activities
- Mrs. Phyllis Smith-Tilford, Care & Concern (Benevolence)
- Dr. Michael Brooks, Communication (Newsletter Staff)
- Ms. LaVita Jones, MBA, (Finance)
- Dr. Lamont Gholston, Sr.; Mrs. Clara Braxton Manso, (History)
- Dr. Michael Brooks, (Information Technology)
- Mrs. Modestine “Tina” Simpson Anderson, (Logistics)
- Mr. James Cross; Memberships (Louisville, Kentucky)
- Mrs. Jennie C. Young-Dudley, Memberships (Out-of-Town)
- Mrs. Janice E. Bishop-Carter; Mrs. Makeeba Summers Edmund (Public Relations)
- Mrs. Mona Smith Moore, (Scholarship Fund)
- Mrs. Modestine “Tina” Simpson Anderson, “Official” Smoketown Jackets
- Mrs. Annette Tilford Tolley, Smoketown T-Shirts
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