History of the Louisville Urban League

The Louisville Urban League is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, interracial community service organization dedicated to the elimination of racism and its effects within our community. The Louisville Urban League’s mission is to assist African-American and disadvantaged persons in the achievement of social and economic equality primarily through education, employment, housing, family development, and community development.

The leadership of the Louisville Urban League developed a strategic plan to create enduring relationships between the League and community leaders, public officials, and business sectors.  Together they would promote racial harmony among individuals of different races and ethnic groups.  The organization spearheaded many projects in race relations giving the League recognition and prestige among social welfare agencies.

Through the years the Louisville Urban League has sought to create and implement programs to improve the socioeconomic conditions of minority-group and low-income individuals; to create an interaction with community leaders, public officials, other agencies, and the business sector; and to assume an advocacy and bridge-building role to promote understanding and greater racial harmony.

As African-Americans began migrating from rural areas to urban communities after the Civil War, they encountered an industrial world which presented enormous opportunities that required new skills and more education.  In the early 1900’s a group of progressive African-American women got involved in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program as a way of providing guidance and role models for African-American children. Their efforts expanded when they were joined by a group of African-American and influential Caucasian men seeking to alleviate other problems within the African American community.

Thus in 1920, only 10 years after the founding of what was to become the National Urban League, the Louisville Urban League emerged and became a member agency of the Community Chest. It was incorporated in August 1921 and was initially known as The Urban League of Louisville for Social Service Among Negroes and as The Louisville Branch of the National Urban League before becoming the Louisville Urban League. Elwood Street, serving as temporary Chairman, appointed a five-person committee to create the framework for a local Urban League.  The agency was started with $1000 which was raised by community residents at a public dinner.

The 1930’s were a decade of economic hardships for many individuals in Louisville, as they suffered from the aftermath of the Great Depression and the devastating flood of 1934.  The Louisville Urban league responded, assisting individuals during this difficult time by providing employment opportunities.  Included in this effort was a report on the status of skilled labor by African Americans in Louisville industries for the Board of Education.  Also, in 1935 the organization collaborated with the Department of Health and participated in a  campaign to combat the spread of diphtheria.

Our history over the years has included providing local industries with qualified employees.  We also pushed to have a study written and published on the African American population entitled “Economic and Cultural Conditions of the Negro Population in Louisville, Kentucky and a review of the programs and activities of the Louisville Urban League.”  A letter written by the Louisville Urban League’s President of the Board of Directors, Joseph Sholtz, requesting that separate state employment offices for blacks and whites be abolished, inspired then Kentucky Governor, Lawrence Wetherby, to present matter to the State Department of Economic Security.

The Louisville Urban League has had many first.  We were the first agency in Louisville to win a $210,000 grant from the Department of Labor for on-the-job training of disadvantaged workers.  This was significant in integrating the nonunion workforce in Louisville.  Also, in 1971 Thelma Clemmons was elected President of the Louisville Urban League’s Board of Directors and Louisville became the first affiliate of the National Urban League to select a female board chair.  Over the years, the Louisville Urban League has provided advocacy, workforce training, and housing counseling.  In fact, the Louisville Urban League is the oldest HUD certified housing counseling agency in the state of Kentucky.

After the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson assembled a group of African American civic leaders to discuss preventive measures.  With support from the mayor and the city and in partnership with the local Private Industry Council, we worked to develop the Mayor’s Urban Employment Program, which targeted African American males between the ages of 16-25.  These young men were given life skills training as well as other support services in order to find employment.

The Leadership

Over the years, the Louisville Urban League has had adept leaders at the head of the agency,  the Chairman of the Board for many years was A.E. Meyzeek, the man for whom Meyzeek middle school is named.  Meyzeek was different than some other African American leaders in Louisville at the time.  He chartered a very independent course.  The 1890’s and 1900’s was the age of Booker T. Washington when accommodating to segregation as a means of making racial progress was the gospel that Washington preached.  While Meyzeek was willing to compromise at times, he saw segregation itself as the problem, much more in the vein of W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass.  Great individuals have led the organization through times of transition, triumph and tribulation and with each era the Louisville Urban League emerged at the forefront of critical issues.

  • Sadiqa N. Reynolds, Esq. President/CEO (October 1, 2015-Present). Reynolds is the first woman to serve as President and CEO of the Louisville Urban League. Sadiqa began her professional career as an attorney, practicing criminal, family and civil law, even handling death penalty litigation and arguing successfully before the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.  She also served as a Jefferson County District Court Judge and was the the first African American woman to clerk for the Kentucky Supreme Court.  Sadiqa  served as the Inspector General for the state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services.  She also served as  Chief for Community Building in the Office of the Mayor.
  • Benjamin K. Richmond, President/CEO (1987 – October 1, 2015). Successfully completed $1.2 million capital campaign; oversaw construction of new League headquarters; continued expansion of League programs, training and workforce development; established REBOUND, Inc. housing development project; enhanced League relationship with business community; instrumental in fostering growth of minority businesses and entrepreneurs.
  • Arthur M. Walters, Executive Director (1970 – 1987). Expanded programs with increased funding; Continued diversification of Board of Directors; broadened League relationship with the community; established Equal Opportunity Day Dinner; led League involvement in implementation of Civil Rights Act of 1964; established affirmative action monitoring program; expanded League programs in workforce development, housing counseling, computer training, youth education; launched $1.2 million capital campaign; added Black Adoption Program.
  • Charles T. Steele, Executive Director (1946 – 1970). Established framework for Louisville’s growth in equal opportunity and human relations; led city’s earliest workforce development efforts; oversaw establishment of local Guild.
  • Robert E. Black, Executive Secretary (1943 – 1946). Pioneered opportunities for African Americans in business; spearheaded creation of two junior high schools for Blacks
  • J.A. Thomas, Executive Secretary (1929 – 1943). Worked to improve race relations and established the League as a positive force among local social welfare agencies.
  • J.M. Ragland, Executive Secretary (1924 – 1929). Implemented broad public relations effort to introduce all-white organizations to socioeconomic problems faced by African-Americans.
  • Elmer S. Carter, Executive Secretary (1921 – 1924). Established foundation for local Urban League Affiliate.