Mayor Fischer's remarks from the Human Relation Commission's 60th anniversary celebration

June 16, 2022

Mayor Greg Fischer's prepared remarks from the Human Relations Commission's 60th anniversary celebration on June 16, 2022:

Our Juneteenth Festival just keeps growing every year and it would not be possible without our wonderful commissioners and our tireless chairwoman – Wanda Mitchell-Smith. Let’s give them a big round of applause!

I have long prioritized racial equity in my administration, and we have made progress in west Louisville investments, housing, the Evolve502 promise scholarships for all JCPS graduates, equitable health outcomes from the pandemic, air quality, and many more.

But, as we all know, there is so much more to do. Our work has been a mere down payment on the debt owed to Black Americans.

And, celebrating Juneteenth is critical to countering our Commonwealth’s and country’s difficulty accepting the need for a shared understanding of and appreciation for telling the full history of America.

Juneteenth is a part of that critical history lesson.

Because, without a shared foundation, a shared understanding of our history, we not only don’t know who we are, we don’t know how to move forward.

Last month at the Frazier History Museum I attended a truth-telling panel discussion on the history of Louisville’s Black Six.

As you know, these six Black Americans – Manfred Reid, Sam Hawkins, Pete Cosby, Ruth Bryant, Robert Sims, and James Cortez – were framed by the White establishment for the 1968 civil unrest around 28th and Dumesnil.

The discussion in the room was rich. The air thick with respect for the Six. And frustration for the injustice of their treatment permeated the room.

I wondered aloud: Knowing that the lives of the Black Six had forever been disrupted, had they ever received an apology – from the police, the courts, the city, anyone?

Much to my dismay, no apology, no settlement had ever been offered.

While I was not mayor in 1968, I currently represent the institution of city government. And for too long, government and its institutions has harmed many of the people they are supposed to protect and elevate, particularly Black Americans.

So, on behalf of the city, I apologized to the Black Six for the grievous wrongs of the government toward them.

And, as I thought about Juneteenth, its important role in truth-telling, and the broader history of the white community and Black Louisvillians, I was reminded of:

The horrors of Louisville as a major slave trading area – from the downtown slave pens to those sold down the river. People like Henry Bibb, the son of an enslaved woman and a state senator, who escaped, was captured and was enslaved again, and held in Louisville’s city workhouse, which he described as hell … before securing his freedom on the Underground Railroad.

I thought of the challenges of the freedman to simply establish a place in society for his family, to peacefully, safely support and provide for his loved ones.

I thought of William Warley, a Black Louisvillian who in 1917 won a United States Supreme Court decision that gave Black Americans the right to acquire, own and live on property without race discrimination, but the systemic unfair and discriminatory housing practices, including redlining, which persisted for decades upon decades after that ruling.  

Urban renewal and its cruel decimation of our Black business and entertainment community – the Black cultural touchstone of our city and the South – which swallowed the venues and voices of jazz singers like Helen Humes and Dinah Washington.

Shelby Lanier and the fight he led within the Louisville police department and the courts so Black police officers would get a fair shake with hiring and promotion. The Wade Family and their trauma, buying and selling a home in an all-white neighborhood.

Treatment by the police of our Black community, from enforcing segregation to the tragic death of Breonna Taylor.

And the unacceptable and intentional societal systems that produce racial gaps in education, income, wealth, health, homeownership and many more.

Forward movement, progress, CHANGE, is often stymied without the acknowledgment of harm. That harm burrows in the psyche, it limits the realization of one’s full human potential.

Anger at the institutions that cause harm is totally understandable, and sometimes it can be hard to see a way through. It can lead to hopelessness and despair.

Yet those that represent institutions may be hesitant to acknowledge that harm, even if they were not present at the time of the offenses.

But the stain of the historic harm remains, and acknowledging the stain is absolutely necessary to move forward.

An apology can seem small because it costs nothing more than some well-deserved institutional humility and ownership of the past, in this case by me – someone that just happens to sit in the seat of the institution of the mayor of our city government.

I cannot erase all the injustices from the first slave ships to today.

But what I can do is offer a sincere apology from me as a person and more importantly on behalf of the institution of the city government of Louisville.

I take responsibility for the system that I have been elected to lead – the past and the present.

Police have frequently been the face of injustice toward the Black community. LMPD Chief Erika Shields and I have spoken about this many times and in the coming weeks she will have more to say on the history of institutional abuse of Black Americans by the police.

For now, along with this apology I pledge to continue to fight injustice for my remaining time as mayor – and all my breaths thereafter.

Thank you.

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