Ravaged by the 1968 riots, Parkland Ky. Comes back to life | Kentucky News


By BAILEY LOSEMORE, Le Courrier Journal

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – The flower beds at a community garden in the heart of Parkland have faded as winter sets in. But around them, the district flourishes.

Patrons shout greetings as they walk through the door of the Parkland Neighborhood Food Mart.

Ladders clash against buildings as workers continue to build more than 20 condominiums.

The kitchen at the Dare to Care Food Bank buzzes as staff and volunteers prepare hundreds of meals each week for families, seniors and children.

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And at the U of L Health Urgent Care Center, patients make appointments with doctors within their own community.

Garden organizer Mary Agnew can’t help but beam with pride. She remembers what Parkland looked like before the riots dragged the region into a decades-long spiral.

She thought she might never see the West End regain its glory in her lifetime. But now, millions of dollars of investments are bringing it back to life.

“And it’s not just money. It’s the time, the energy, the blood, the sweat and the tears, ”said Agnew, 68, who lives on the edge of Parkland and Park DuValle. “… We should all agree. And it’s like we are.

While several neighborhoods in Louisville are undergoing significant development, Parkland is enjoying a quiet renaissance, with many projects led by people who live and work in the area.

The emergency care center, Dare to Care and the local food store have each opened in the past two years. A plaza and playground will soon be under construction next to the garden, and city officials have allocated funds to restore a historic Carnegie library.

The work is taking place in a commercial corridor that has never fully recovered from the riots of 1968, spurred by the arrests of two leaders of the black community. Many businesses have been destroyed.

And while recent investment remains relatively limited to a few blocks, community members say they hope efforts will spread across the impoverished neighborhood, filling vacant homes and reducing violent crime.

“I don’t even have to hope so because I can see the ground that has been laid,” said Bert Williams, interim executive director of the Metro Housing Resource Center, a nonprofit founded in 1979.

“From this square that will be built, it will branch out. And before you know it, this will be a place everyone wants to be. “

Parkland was once one of Louisville’s most desirable neighborhoods.

A lot auction in 1871 “was so popular that businesses closed so employees could attend,” according to a Parkland neighborhood map.

Houses quickly fell on the once open land. And by the 1930s, the neighborhood around 28th and Dumesnil streets had grown into a thriving business district with theaters, bakeries, and hardware stores.

Black residents have settled in Parkland since its inception, and the population has grown over the decades, leading part of the neighborhood to become known as “Little Africa.”

In the 1950s, however, urban renewal projects that demolished buildings and replaced them with social housing left the area with fewer resources and higher poverty rates.

It was in this atmosphere that police arrested two respected black residents on May 8, 1968, according to former University of Louisville professor Bruce Taylor.

That day, patrol officers arrested teacher Charles Thomas because his “car looked like a description of a car used in a burglary.” A crowd converged and real estate broker Manfred G. Reid stepped forward to defend Thomas, calling an officer a “riot agitator.” The two men were placed under arrest.

Residents decried the arrests as an example of police bias and abuse. And on May 27, hundreds of people gathered on the 28th and Greenwood to protest the incident.

Violence broke out. Buildings were looted. And the National Guard was called.

“Over the next few days, a major urban riot engulfed much of western Louisville,” says a history section on the Parkland Plaza website. “Two young African Americans have died, 472 have been arrested, millions of dollars in property have been destroyed and the community has been haunted by searing images of police and National Guard units patrolling local streets.”

Residents and city officials have attempted to revitalize Parkland over the years, but the neighborhood remains underfunded with nearly a quarter of housing vacant, according to 2019 census estimates.

About a third of Parkland residents live below poverty and the median household income is $ 25,116

“I would love to see all of this love and our community being rebuilt and back to being where people really cared for each other,” said Kary Goff, owner of a home on 28th Street since 2002. “With crime and everything, I don’t think their minds are broken, but I think a lot of minds are badly damaged, and you kind of need to fix them.

“I know we’ve been late for years. But I’ve always said I might be dead and gone, but we’re going to see it turn around. “

Tammy Hawkins doesn’t see the setbacks when she looks at Parkland.

She sees a warm and caring community with potential.

“It’s not really anyone who lives or works here that I don’t know,” she said. “… You know, it’s very family-friendly. So my heart is here in Parkland.

Hawkins owns the Parkland Neighborhood Food Mart and Kidz World Daycare and is a founding member of the Parkland Business and Development Association, which helped make Parkland Plaza a reality.

She said residents and business owners need to get involved if they want to see positive change in their communities. And that’s what she and others see happening along 28th Street.

“I felt like we could create a majority black owned trade corridor that was safe,” property manager Tamika Jackson said of the formation of the trade association. “… I felt that we needed to be more connected and more engaged and also bring our resources together to try and revitalize the region to what it was before. “

The biggest “punch in the arm” has been Dare to Care, said Williams of the Metro Housing Resource Center. The association opened a community kitchen on 28th and Virginia streets during the pandemic and cooked hundreds of meals a week. Catholic Charities has moved its Common Table training program to the facility, and students maintain plots in the community garden.

Williams and Agnew said they were in awe of how Dare to Care officials asked how they could help the community – instead of telling the neighborhood what it needed.

“When you do that it gives you pride in that, hey, I have a part in what’s going on instead of someone coming here just to do something, so they’re going to be gone and you won’t see them anymore, “said Williams, 70.

Not everyone in Parkland feels like they are getting the help they need.

Simon Wallace, owner of the 28th Street Barber Shop, said he’d like to grow his 25-year-old business, but a property he’s been mowing was recently bought by the Louisville Land Bank, and he’s unsure how to access it.

Across the street, Grandmaster Khalid Raheem said his water was recently cut off in the building where he teaches martial arts to around three dozen young people.

“They build, but they walk all around us as if we don’t exist,” he said.

The owner of the Arab Federation’s Martial Arts Academy wants to see more investment in services for young people, especially those who are more likely to be involved in violent crime.

His concerns have been echoed by several Parkland residents and advocates, who say more community centers and programs are needed in the area.

If such resources materialize, they could help make the neighborhood even better than before.

“We want to do more than just thrive,” Agnew said. “We want to shine.

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