The University of Louisville commemorates Black history every day through the Charles H. Parrish Jr. Freedom Park, created in 2012 between Second and Third streets on the Belknap Campus. That location is intentional, as it used to be adjacent to a monument erected in 1895 to honor Confederate soldiers who died during the Civil War. That monument has since been removed from UofL’s campus.
The park also pays homage to nine civil rights champions with ties to the University of Louisville, who are featured on glass panels on the pergola. Some of these names may sound familiar, including:
- Anne M. Braden– A journalist and nationally known civil rights leader, Braden taught civil rights history for the decade before her death. The Anne Braden Institute at UofL carries forward her legacy.
- Rufus E. Clement– The first dean of Louisville Municipal College in 1931, Clement built a strong faculty before leaving to become president of Atlanta University in 1937.
- Lyman Tefft Johnson– Johnson was the plaintiff in the lawsuit that forced the desegregation at the University of Kentucky Graduate School in 1949. He then launched a campaign to desegregate UofL, which led the Kentucky General Assembly to end racial segregation in all Kentucky colleges and universities in 1950.
- Lucy Freibert– A faculty member from 1971 to 1993, Freibert taught UofL’s first women’s studies course in 1973 and helped establish the Women’s Center and the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies.
- Charles Henry Parrish, Jr.– UofL’s first African-American professor, he joined the university in 1951, the first African-American appointed to the faculty of a historically white university in the south.
- Eleanor Young Love– Dr. Love was the first African-American librarian at the University of Kentucky in 1955. A decade later, she became the first director of Project Upward Bound and an assistant dean at UofL.
- Joseph H. McMillan, Sr.– A 1950 UofL graduate, McMillan returned in 1976 as an assistant provost, professor of education, director of the Office of Minority Affairs and founder of the National Conference on the Black Family in America.
- Woodford R. Porter– A community and business leader, he was the first African-American chair of the UofL Board of Trustees. He served four terms as chair.
- Wilson W. Wyatt, Sr.– Former Louisville mayor and Kentucky lieutenant governor, Wyatt also was a UofL trustee and made the first motion to desegregate the university in 1949.
J. Blaine Hudson, who ideated Freedom Park, is also featured on a glass panel. Hudson was a student leader of UofL’s Black Student Union in the late 1960s and was once arrested for occupying an administration building as part of a call for creating a Black studies program. Years later, his advocacy came full circle as he joined UofL as an employee, working his way from staff to history instructor to tenured professor in the Pan African Studies Department – one of the first such departments in the country and the first in the south. Hudson eventually served as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences before his death in 2013.
His idea of Freedom Park came about to provide a complete historical account, balancing out that once proximate Confederate monument. In addition to those glass panels, the park also includes 10 black granite pillars detailing Louisville’s history in chronological order:
- Settlement, 1750
- Slavery, 1775-1865
- The Free Black Community of Louisville, 1830-1860
- The Underground Railroad, 1815-1865
- The Civil War, 1863-1865
- Reconstruction/Readjustment, 1865-1877
- Segregation, 1865-1900
- Resistance in the Era of Segregation, 1900-1940
- The Civil Rights Movement, 1940-1970
- The Ongoing Struggle, 1970-today
Notably, the park itself surrounds the Playhouse, which was constructed in 1874 as a chapel for the House of Refuge, a municipal institution for orphaned children. It was first used as a theater in 1925. In 1977, the Playhouse was dismantled and placed in storage to make way for Ekstrom Library. It reopened in 1980 at its current location. With 344 seats, the Playhouse is home to performances by UofL’s acclaimed African-American Theatre Program.