Community activist Rev. Louis Coleman dead at 64

Published: Jul. 5, 2008 at 11:13 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2008 at 10:59 PM EDT
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By Shayla Reaves - bio | email

LOUISVILLE (WAVE) - The Rev. Louis Coleman, a prominent community activist in Louisville, died about 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Suburban Hospital after suffering a series of seizures. People with him when he died quoted him as saying "I'm ready to go home." Our Shayla Reaves talked with people who worked closely with him over the years at a ceremony in his memory at the Carl Braden Memorial Center.

He was a man who made it his mission to not be ignored. Sometimes driving down the wrong side of the street to get to a rally or skipping a tux for sneakers and sweats, those who knew Reverend Coleman say he always made it - his message and sometimes his bullhorn - in hand, ready to make a difference.

Activist Mattie Jones stood alongside Coleman many times and was a very close friend. His death left her overcome with grief. "Oh Jesus, I can't take this," she said. "I can't take this."

There's no doubt Rev. Louis Coleman made an impact. A controversial figure, the civil rights activist is known for holding public leaders accountable- even when standing up meant standing alone.

"Reverend Coleman was always there in times of controversy and challenge," said Gracie Lewis of The Black Caucus of the Kentucky Alliance. "He would step forward when nobody else would."

During his lifetime, Coleman headed the local Justice Resource Center, sponsoring marches and rallies for change here in Louisville. He launched a gun buy-back program to make the city's streets safer and drew national attention after the police involved shootings of Michael Newby and Desmond Rudolph.

He is also credited as a key player for his work that helped to win a lawsuit challenging the lack of black coaches in Kentucky high school sports.

"He gave his life in the work of justice for all mankind," said Rev. James Tennison of The Justice Resource Center. "That's the way he was, never concerned about his own self, but for other people."

Now, the challenge for those who knew him is making sure his legacy lives on.

"We've lost a major drum major in the fight for freedom and Civil Rights," Michael Jones told WAVE 3 News.

"The man was all over the place, we're going to miss him," said The Justice Resource Center Board Member Dr. Joseph McMillan. "That's for sure."

Rev. Coleman was inducted into the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame, but people close to him tell us he wasn't big on awards. In fact members of the Justice Resource Center say they once had to retrieve his awards from the trash because he threw them away, saying he just didn't need them.

Mayor Jerry Abramson released the following statement in response to Coleman's death: "Reverend Coleman was a tireless fighter and a voice for those without a voice. We didn't always agree with each other, but I never doubted his dedication and devotion."

Survivors include his wife, three children, a sister and several grandchildren.