50 Years Later: Remembering Louisville's 1968 riots -- Part III

Remembering the 1968 riots 50 years later, Part III
Kevin Shaheen (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
Kevin Shaheen (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
Rev. Charles Kirby (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
Rev. Charles Kirby (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
Chanelle Helm (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
Chanelle Helm (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
A new business that opened on 28th St. in 2017. (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)
A new business that opened on 28th St. in 2017. (Source: Doug Druschke, WAVE 3 News)

Special to WAVE3.com

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Aging reminders of abject neglect are still festering at 28th and Greenwood. Abandoned buildings and homes with boarded doors and broken windows are common near the once busy intersection. Deep scars are also found in brick and mortar and among individuals in a community having yet to heal at and near the tipping point of where trouble exploded 50 years ago this month.

Kevin Shaheen family's business endured and survived the altered landscape of Louisville's West End following the city's riots of 1968.

"Looking back, you can see the racial tensions," Shaheen said.

Rather than writing off this part of town by folding the tent like so many others, Shaheen's Department Store at 26th and Portland Avenue continues to be a local mainstay. His grandfather opened the enterprise back in 1922.
"There's a lot of great people here," Shaheen said, "A lot of great families here. They support us, and we respect everybody who walks through the door and everybody respects us."

50th Anniversary of Louisville Riots of 1968
50 Years Later: Remembering Louisville's 1968 riots -- Part I
50 Years Later: Remembering Louisville's 1968 riots -- Part II

Achieving respect and improving the human condition were stated goals by Louisville"s civil rights leaders during 1968. Among the African Americans ministers who were on the front lines was Rev. Charles Kirby, the retired pastor of Southern Star Baptist Church. Kirby was also on 28th Street when tempers boiled over.

"So it was pretty, pretty rough, pretty rough," Kirby recalls.

Kirby's voice was among those calling for change and 50 years later local activists on a similar quest of improving blighted areas like the Parkland community see themselves facing the same struggle. Chanelle Helm is one of the decision makers connected to the Louisville Chapter of Black Lives Matters.

"You see little hope, you see a little fight back," Helm said. "We're trying. And it's scary."

That fear is fueled by poverty, crime, and social instability. Fifty years ago, the thriving corridor just south of Virginia Ave. and north of Dumesnil St. had a number of successful businesses that included  A&P grocery store, Key Market, Oak Drug, Vine's Record Store and Bank of Louisville. These days, improvements and fresh starts in the Parkland community are often long shot prospects, but hope does emerge when individuals like Mayor Greg Fischer celebrate the opening of a business on South 28th St., as he did back in 2017. But long-term what will it take to make a lasting difference.
"People have like these ideas and, and they, they know what they want to see in their communities. It's just people continually keep telling them no," Helm said.

"The politicians have to listen to the people," Kirby said agreeing with Helm. "I mean listen to them and find out what they want."

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Metro Council President David James understands the role from City Hall.

"In the end, it's going to require government working with the private sector to generate investment in West Louisville," James said.

Ken Clay, a former business owner who operated a record and bookstore at 28th and Greenwood, is among the disappointed who remembers better times.

"I mean look at it. There's nothing much here," Clay said. "There's been some effort to rebirth it but it hasn't really caught on."

Unlike other parts of the city, home ownership in the Parkland community near the place of trouble is low. Merv Aubespin of the Courier-Journal who covered the city's crisis back in '68 feels the challenge comes in transforming a neighborhood of renters to a place of valued stakeholders.

"We do that by listening to people who are involved," Aubespin said. "We do that by being inclusive."

At the end of the day, turning it around in a place that once dominated headlines and now seems to be forgotten requires a lasting partnership.
If such a union were to be successful it will mean a firm commitment from government but also the lasting will of the people.

Steve Crump is a Louisville native and reporter for WAVE 3 News' sister station, WBTV, in Charlotte, N.C.

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