By STEVE CRUMP
Special to WAVE3.com
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Decaying structures along West Louisville's 28th Street offer compelling and chilling reminders of a critical turning point in this city's life.
In many ways, the once-busy stretch between Greenwood and Dumesnil is both a shadow and shell of itself from better times.
Former reporter Merv Aubespin's graphic accounts, connected to several days of rioting, made front page news 50 years ago this month.
"I'm on the phone calling the Courier-Journal to tell them I got it covered," he recalled.
Aubespin was in the middle of the violent chaos, and so was Ken Clay, who owned a record and bookstore called the Jazz Corner at 28th and Greenwood. That's where the trouble began.
"I just had people who never come into my store before, they just came in, bought everything," Clay said. "We had a great day."
Manfred Reid, a current Louisville Housing Commission member, was also on 28th Street that day and felt the tension in the air weeks earlier, at 23rd and Broadway. His escalated encounter with Louisville police added to the tension. Reid still clings to the moment.
"I was arrested - let's put it that way - and that disturbed the community because of my status," he said. "I was a real estate broker."
Reid's arrest, combined with Dr. Martin Luther King's Jr.'s assassination weeks earlier -- and the reality of other cities going up in flames -- all contributed to a highly charged, volatile environment.
A daytime rally for social justice near the intersection turned chaotic.
"Somebody in a group dropped a bottle. When it hit, it made a sound that sounded almost like a rifle sound," Aubespin said.
Clay said that sound brought a swift response from law enforcement.
"Suddenly the police, when he was laying back in the cut, came into the crowd. And there was a county policeman on the side of the porch with a double barrel shotgun," Clay said. "He immediately turned and put it right in my face."
Clay was stunned by the officer's actions.
"I looked in his eyes, and I never saw so much hate through his eyes -- you know?" he said.
Family members of former Metro Council member Tom Owen operated a nearby funeral home on Virginia Avenue, and his grandfather found himself in harm's way.
"There was some banging on the side of his car," Owen recalled. "But some other folks, African-American folks, helped him to divert into an alley.
Several days of eruptive disturbances forced the state to call in 2,000 National Guardsmen.
More than 400 people were arrested, and two teenagers killed.
Fourteen-year-old James Groves was shot dead by Louisville police, and 19-year-old Mathias Browder fired upon by a business owner for an alleged act of looting at a liquor store.
Local businessman Lawrence Montgomery was among the fearful parents.
"Lo and behold, I saw my son, my son was in that crowd," Montgomery said. "I was successful in getting him out of there."
However, silent aftermath still lingers along this once-thriving corridor, impacting the city's decision-makers like Metro Council President David James.
"You know, as a child when I was growing up, that was the epicenter of where I lived," he said. James wasn't alone.
The second part of this three-part series can be seen on WAVE 3 News on Monday at 6 p.m.
Steve Crump is a Louisville native and reporter for WAVE 3 News' sister station, WBTV, in Charlotte, N.C.