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Rev. Louis Coleman is laid to rest

Published: Jul. 11, 2008 at 11:32 PM EDT|Updated: May. 5, 2009 at 3:25 PM EDT
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By Caton Bredar - bio  | email

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A noted civil rights activist was laid to rest Friday in Kentucky. The Reverend Louis H. Coleman died last week at the age of 64. Hundreds of people attended his funeral service at Canaan Christian Church on Hikes Lane. WAVE 3's Caton Bredar spoke to friends, associates and even casual acquaintances of Coleman.

Nearly 1,000 people from all wakes of life, including Congressman John Yarmuth, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and Metro Police Chief Robert White, all attended the service, most staying until the end for a service which lasted for more than three hours. A somewhat lengthy, larger than life service, for a man many described as a true life force.

The service included music from several choirs and moments of remembrance from friends, family and fellow clergy members, including national civil rights activist Dick Gregory, in from Washington D.C., to deliver the eulogy.

"We'd come down here to do battle," Gregory joked during the service. "And he's stopping along the way to get some sweet tea." And on a more serious note, "I came down here to say thanks to the family."

"When you were with him, you didn't need a gun," Gregory continued in his eulogy. "He was the real police...he was the real governor, the real mayor."

Coleman was into his 20th year as pastor of the First Congregational Methodist Church at the time of his death. Reverend Dr. Walter Malone, Jr., pastor of Canaan Christian, remembered him as a social warrior.

"Louis Coleman was a necessary irritant," Malone said to the standing room only congregation. "...to the power structure of Louisville, Kentucky, and to the Commonwealth of Kentucky."

Born Louis Henry Coleman, Jr., the man known affectionately as "Buster" grew up in the Smoketown neighborhood but never got far from his roots, according to Lynn Holt, who knew Coleman for more than 30 years.

"He could walk down the street and get down to anybody's level," Holt remarked. "Like with me, I'm just a motorcycle guy, but he understood. He respected that."

Holt worked with Coleman on several local projects and joined other motorcyclists, like Gregory Taylor, in escorting the processional from the funeral to the Calvary Cemetery in Shelbyville. While Taylor never met the Reverend personally, he said he attended many of his rallies and was well acquainted with his work and influence in the community.

"The 34th and Broadway area is where I was raised," he explained, adding that Coleman was an omnipresent force in the West End. "He was active in that area, always talking to drug dealers, to kids, whatever he could do to try and help."

A graduate of Kentucky State University, Coleman ran track and played football. He later played minor league baseball and coached for his alma mater. But his greater passion, working for God and working for justice, would take over. He founded the Justice Resource Center in 1975 and became a tireless advocate for minorities and for social justice.

"There's few people on the planet that don't have a hidden agenda," Gregory said after the service, adding that Coleman did not. "...just liberty, freedom."

At times controversial, Coleman's crusades were wide spread. Included in his more successful campaigns, he protested the construction at Papa John's stadium over the lack of minority workers, ultimately getting the city to adopt new guidelines. His complaints about air pollution from the smokestacks in Rubbertown eventually led to stricter regulations. But for all his hard work, what those who knew him, and even those who didn't know him well, say they will miss most, is his heart.

"I'll just miss the person, his heart," said Holt, adding that few people had the capacity to show concern and respect for so many "all creeds, all colors."

"The Justice Resource Center will be fine," added Taylor. "What I worry about, sometimes after losing someone like this, there's a tendency to go back the way things were."

"It's up to us as adults to step in and do the right thing, now," he concluded.

That's something Gregory and other clergy and activists vowed to do at Coleman's funeral. Gregory, a long time supporter of the Justice Resource Center, believes the woman named as acting director will be an able replacement. Mattie Jones, a long time associate of Coleman's, was so overcome with emotion that she had to be assisted in and out of the funeral. While it is unclear whether she will be a permanent replacement, Gregory says she follows a long tradition of female activists and will continue the work Coleman started. Still, Coleman leaves big shoes to fill.

"When you're dealing in the universe with a brother like Coleman, you only get one to a customer," says Gregory. "No two (Martin Luther) King's, two Gandhi's. Anybody who has a mission, you just get one."