Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

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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96 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 enough to pass as white. She chose not to. Of her mixed race, her biographer Wade Hall, in his book Passing for Black: e Life and Careers of Mae Street Kidd, quoted her as saying, "I don't mind my white blood — it's an important part of who I am — but what's more important is what I did with my life." And she did a lot with her long life. Mrs. Kidd was in her 60s when she entered politics. She had retired from suc- cessful careers in sales and public relations. She was a Democrat who didn't suffer fools gladly. When I moved next door, she reminded me that, as a young black pro- fessional and resident of her street (which had been home to many fine, upstanding and accomplished negroes), I had to carry myself in a certain way. She said a West Chestnut Street address signified that one had arrived — or, at a minimum, was on the way up. I imagine that my being a reporter for the Courier-Journal gave me at least a little cachet, by her estimation. One day, however, I was on the large deck I had added to the house. Mrs. Kidd beckoned me over to the fence. She'd heard me speak somewhere and felt obliged to tell me that there were too many "ums" throughout my talk. I wasn't even aware that I was frequently and audibly hesitating between thoughts. Mrs. Kidd was in her 80s, and I wasn't about to get snarky with an elder. I simply said, "ank you, Mae" — she let me call her that — "I'll remember that the next time." Mrs. Kidd and her first husband, Horace Leon Street, purchased their home on Chestnut decades before I moved onto the block. She enchanted me with stories about the sundry black professionals — educators, doctors, lawyers, preachers, pol- iticians, entrepreneurs and so forth — who once lived up and down Chestnut Street. Samuel Plato, the first black architect con- tracted to design U.S. post offices, resided on West Chestnut. She recollected how, to get ready for the Derby, she and some of the neighbors spruced up their yards and gardens and painted the tree trunks along the street white, to give Chestnut an even grander air. "It was beautiful," she said, wistfully. Mrs. Kidd told me about lavish parties and that out-of-town guests, including Martin Luther King Jr., held meetings and lodged with Chestnut Street's residents. Such were the times that African- Americans — for all their talents, fame, professional accomplishments, fancy cars, and even money to burn — weren't welcomed at segregated downtown hotels. Mrs. Kidd's Chestnut Street memories jibed with the reporting and research I did for a special 1989 Courier-Journal series on Louisville's neighborhoods. She seemed to enjoy my company, though I suspect some of Mrs. Kidd's visits were prompted by the handsome gentleman I was dating at the time. I believe that she had a little crush on Charles Douglas. One time, she noticed him on my deck, came over, sat down, crossed her legs and openly flirted. "Mae, you're still a vamp," I teased. She didn't deny it. Many of Louisville's movers and shakers of the era beat paths to Mrs. Kidd's. She was friends with state Sen. Georgia Powers, the first woman and first person of color elected to the Kentucky Senate. Kidd and Powers were a dynamic duo in Frankfort, lobbying for and sponsoring civil-rights and fair-housing bills designed to increase opportunities and the quality of life for black Kentuckians. Mrs. Kidd sponsored the bill calling for the Kentucky legislature, finally, to ratify the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. e amendments abolished slavery, defined citizenship and granted all men the right to vote. ough largely a symbolic gesture in 1976, Kentucky's fail- ure to join the majority of states in repudi- ating America's ugly past was a lingering stain that needed to be erased. Until I moved to Chestnut Street, I had never lived in a majority-black neighborhood. East Harlem and the Bronx were racially and ethnically diverse. Life had never before been just black and white. But I loved living in such a fabled neighborhood. e old Quinn Chapel African Method- ist Episcopal Church building is boarded up now, but it was the jumping-off point for many local civil-rights demonstrations and meetings in the 1960s. Next door is the Chestnut Street YMCA, aka "the black folks' Y." e building, completed in 1914, was the original headquarters of the black Knights of Pythias Temple and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. e Y's neighbor is the Western Branch of the public library, the first built expressly for African-Americans. Central High School, for years Louisville's only public high school Until I moved to Chestnut Street, I had never lived in a majority-black neigh- borhood. East Harlem and the Bronx were racially and ethnically diverse. Life had never before been just black and white. But I loved living in such a fabled neighborhood. I missed my father too. He died in 1983, the year before I moved to Lou- isville. One of the many things my dad despised while growing up black in Richmond, Virginia, was, in his words, "all those damned Confederate statutes." Some of the stories the Courier-Journal covered during my early years in town would have mortified my father. I wrote about the racially motivated firebombing of a black family's home in southwest Jefferson County, and was assigned to cover the ensuing Ku Klux Klan rally. "Ms. Bayé, I can't guarantee your safety," a Klansman said during a chilling conversation that included him referring to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as Martin Luther Coon. I hung up the phone, went to the night ed- itor and said, "e Klansman told me not to come. I suggest you send the biggest, whitest reporter we have." In the mid-'80s, another big C-J story was the discovery of Klan members in the old Jefferson County police department. is was the 1980s, not the 1880s. I can just imagine my dad's reaction, had I been able to tell him about my interview with big-band singer Rose- mary Clooney one Kentucky Derby. I was taking notes on Millionaire's Row at Churchill Downs and, as she talked, one of the guests (who was a little tipsy) crept up behind me, tapped me on the shoul- der real hard and said, "We need drinks at table 14." Clooney, to her credit, was embarrassed for me. "She's a reporter, not a waitress!" she said. My dad loved history and would have enjoyed chatting with my next-door neigh- bor, former state Rep. Mae Street Kidd, who lived for years on West Chestnut Street. e daughter of a black mother and an absent white father, Mrs. Kidd was born in 1904 east of Louisville in Mill- ersburg, Kentucky. She was nearly six feet tall, had blond hair and was light-skinned

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