OLD WALNUT STREET: A HISTORY
(Excerpt from "Two Centuries of Black Louisville: A Photographic History," by Mervin Aubespin, Kenneth Clay and J. Blaine Hudson, Butler Books 2011, p. 150-151)
African Americans began concentrating along Walnut Street between Sixth and 15th Streets before the Civil War and, over the next several decades, they became an ever-larger minority and eventually a majority of the residents of this section of the city. As the black residential presence became more significant, black businesses became more numerous. For example, there were four black businesses along Walnut Street in 1884, 24 in 1900 and 154 in 1932.
During this era, the conditions under which most African Americans lived, in Louisville and elsewhere, were often exceedingly difficult. Almost all were still bombarded by the constant message of their own inferiority and lived in a state of constant vigilance, knowing that those who policed the color line could sometimes act with capricious and callous brutality. In such circumstances, the need for a supportive community network, for emotional and spiritual expression and release did not reflect a stereotypical happy-go-lucky attitude toward life. Much as in the antebellum period, African Americans sang, not only because they were happy, but sometimes because they needed to forget about their troubles, if only for a while, whether in church on Sunday morning or in a nightclub on Saturday night.
In this context, African Americans in Louisville created and enjoyed a rich and lively social life organized around fraternal organizations, churches, lodges and private social clubs. Although dress-up dances, picnics, musical events, sports, social clubs, social events in private facilities, and entertaining in private residences were as common for the more affluent minority as "street culture" were for the less affluent masses, all segments of the black community came together in the more popular establishments of Old Walnut Street.