Louisville Magazine

MAR 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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3.14 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 5 9 those in the preservation community who believe Steve Porter is too comfy with the city's leaders. "Let's be frank," says Martina Kunnecke, director of Neighborhood Planning and Preservation, a group that often spearheads preservation battles, such as the fght over Whiskey Row. "Tis town operates on a cronyism system. Consequently, the way things get done is based on that system. . . . In the process, they have left the rest of the city out." Kunnecke says she has admired Porter's doggedness in defense of preservation, but she was unhappy with his role in the Landmarks amendment debate. "It just seemed, from out of nowhere, that Steve positioned himself . . . as representing the entire preservation commu- nity," she says. Until that moment, she says, the preservation side was winning. People who attended the hearings were overwhelmingly opposed to the proposed changes. Metro Council was out of arguments. "Tey couldn't even demonstrate that they needed to change it," Kunnecke says. "We felt like we were cruising along," she says. "Suddenly Steve stepped forward and said, 'I made a deal.' He started making deals and compromises when we felt there was no reason to do that. He im- mediately goes to the compromise position. He took that position too soon, and he did so on behalf of parties who were unaware of it and did not agree with it." But other observers say, if anything, Porter saved the preservation community from a far worse ordinance. Cash of Preservation Lou- isville says it was evident that no amount of vocal support at public hearings would sway the council majority. "It was clear there were going to be changes," he says. "I think what Steve attempted to do was make the situation better. I think he did a good job with that." According to Porter, he was invited to negotiate a compromise by the council members who were on the side of the preservationists. "Tey saw the handwriting on the wall," he says. "Tey brought me in. I agree 100 percent with Martina that what happened (to the con- trol of landmarking in Louisville) was wrong, but we ended up with the best possible — or I should say, the least obnoxious — result." "Some members of the preservation community criticize Steve for being too accommodating," says Jack Trawick, retired former execu- tive director of the Center for Neighborhoods, a change-from-within community-planning organization. "Te other side sees him as a communist. . . . It was a polarizing event, and the person who tries to resolve polarizing events gets the jolt." Maybe collecting voltage is where he excels. Porter is a Republican, in the lineage, he says, of George Romney, not Mitt. It makes sense. Te elder Romney was a champion of fair housing, believing the in- ner-city riots of the late 1960s, including the Detroit riot of '67, were born of the segregation that stunted the hopes of African-Americans. Civil rights is a cause close to Porter's heart. As a student at Duke University in 1965, he and some college friends caravanned to Mont- gomery, Ala., to take part in Martin Luther King's march from Selma to Montgomery. "Tere were armed guards with bayonets on every corner as we were marching down the street (Dexter Avenue), march- ing up to the capitol — and there's the Confederate fag fying above the United States fag. People were yelling and screaming at us with not so nice words." Later that summer, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. After the march, Porter split from his friends. Tey piled into the other car heading back to Duke so that he could drive straight home to Louisville to see his family. To Don Monroe, a student at histori- cally all-black Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala. — now Oakwood University — the decision that put Porter in the car alone saved six lives. Monroe and fve Oakwood classmates had traveled to the march too, all crammed into Monroe's tiny Volkswagen Beetle. Tey were only half joking when they made the friend with the lightest skin sit where he couldn't be seen well from the outside — a narrow space behind the backseat. "We were basically trying to cover him up. We didn't want police to think we had a white gentleman with us," says Monroe. After the march, as he piloted his crowded bug on the new Inter- state 65, the engine quit. Tey were somewhere between Montgomery and Birmingham, stranded in what they worried was Klan territory. As they tried to fgure out a way out of their predicament, Monroe's friends began to notice the same car driving past again and again. Tey were petrifed. "We had plenty of prayer sessions in that car," Monroe says. Accounts difer on just how it occurred, but at some point, Steve Porter pulled up in his Buick Skylark. Te six men gladly clambered inside, sure that he had saved their lives. Tat same day, civil-rights activist Viola Lluzzo was murdered in Selma as she dropped people of after the march. Porter's appearance "was divine intervention," Monroe says. "It was because of the Lord that Steve came by with an empty car." Porter drove the men all the way to Huntsville and stayed the night in the Oakwood dorm. "We decided he integrated Oakwood," Monroe says. "He showered up in the morning and integrated the showers." Two years later, King spoke at the University of Louisville, where Porter was in law school, at Porter's invitation. Later, Porter would work with former state Sen. Georgia Powers, to fght the return of neighborhood schools, which their research showed would return Jeferson County schools to profound segregation. Powers was the frst woman and frst person of color to serve in the Kentucky legislature. "He made great contributions," Powers says. "I always thought Steve had great character. Tere was just a fairness about him for all people. I think it was just innate; it was just within him as a man." A few years ago, Porter began to wonder about the men he drove to Oakwood after the march. He didn't even know their names. He wrote to the president of the university, told his story, and the presi- dent put out an APB. "He sent emails all over the United States look- ing for those crazy guys who participated in the civil-rights march," Monroe recalls. And he found all six of them. Monroe was just down the road in the town of Madison, and he spent his career teaching high school history in Huntsville. Te others were scattered around the country. Te seven men reunited at a university event in 2009. For Porter, civil rights, preservation, homeowner rights — the theme uniting them all is consistent. He was interested in fairness. He started law school hoping to "solve all the world's problems." He cared about individual rights and an open and democratic society. "I've pretty much carried that through my whole legal career," he says. "I represent neighbors, not developers. I represent people. A guy on the other side told me, 'Steve, you'd do a whole lot better fnancially if you'd come over to the dark side,'" Porter says with a laugh, a loud "ha! ha!" that booms from him often. "But I like my side better." "I always thought Steve had great character," says former state Sen. Georgia Powers. "There was just a fairness about him for all people." 54-59 PORTER.indd 59 2/19/14 9:46 AM

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