“I’ve been here for about fifteen years. I spent all of my childhood here, when I moved back from Delaware, with my dad. I stayed with my grandparents. We gotta house in J-Town but I went to school off Dixie Highway because that was close to where my dad worked. I used to catch the bus here from school. I spent all my summers here and everyday after school was spent here from 4th grade until I was a senior in high school. My best friend, at that time, used to live on Larkwood, by Shawnee Park. So, I used to either walk or catch the bus. We used to play basketball and I would walk or catch the bus right back.
I remember going to Consolidated, which is now a halfway house, on the corner of 15th and Jefferson. It was like the department store. I remember getting my shoe laces getting caught on the escalator at Sears, which was on 9th and Broadway. My grandfather used to get carpet from this carpet place that used to be the Big A Shopping Center on Bolling.
Me and my cousin, who is like my brother, these are the blocks that we ran. He grew up on 24th and Jefferson. This is where we were and this is what we did. We used to go to Dairy Del, Elliot Park to play ball and would run up all through here. I still keep in contact with a lot of people that I grew up in the neighborhood with. That’s changed quite a bit because it’s no where near as nice as it was when I was growing up. Even then, there was still a lot of older people here but you know, the houses and yards were maintained. It had that typical neighborhood vibe. For instance, if me and my cousin were doing something, at the end of the block, that we weren’t supposed to be doing, my grandfather would know about it by the time we got back. From the time we walked from one block to the next, my grandfather was like, “Come here!”. We already knew what was up, so we had to keep our noses clean because everybody knew Mr. Red. Everybody knew Mr. Red.
I’m forty-five years old and my grandfather passed six or seven years ago and I’m still known as Mr. Red’s grandson. Just like guys, that are my dad’s age, they’re in their seventies and all of their kids and their kids used to get their hair cut by my grandfather. So, he’s cut about three, almost four generations of hair. It’s not too many places that I can go where somebody doesn’t know me as Mr. Red’s grandson. Of course with being a staple in Russell and living here for sixty-plus years.
My granddad is my idol. He’s taught almost all of my life lessons like the importance of owning your own business. He taught me how to manage money. He always told us to pay ourselves first before we pay anybody else. Him and my grandmother used to always read the Bible close to us all the time. As a kid, I was like, “Man, squash that!”. Now, as an adult, it makes perfect sense. You know like, “A good name is better to be chosen than gold” is true and they constantly drilled that in us. We had to take piano lessons as we would read the Bible everyday. So everyday, after school, we would read a chapter from the Bible. My cousin and I would take turns reading chapter. I read the Bible, from cover to cover, about three or four times. When I first started reading it, I didn’t understand it because it was all of that old English. As I got further in middle and high school, I better understood. It’s just that discipline. It’s just that old school discipline. My grandfather was that old school disciplinary and we had our routine. If I was here, we know that every Tuesday we were going to the barber store and the candy store. HIs barber shop sold a lot of candy. That’s when we would go get candy and do all these other things.
It wasn’t until later in life, when I was talking to my grandfather and some of this friends, that I would understand some of the things that he would do. Like, he used to always order his shoes from books. I always wondered about that. He would never really go to shoe stores and pick them out. He would order them from these little catalogs that he used to get. I thought it was because he stood for a long time and just needed special barbering shoes. Come to find out, when my dad was younger, at that time, department stores on 4th Street wouldn't let black folks try on shoes or clothes. That made my grandfather furious. He decided not to patronize those places and would order his stuff from catalogs.
It was just those life lessons that are still with me today. You know, I went to church every Sunday. My grandfather was a deacon and in the choir. He was one of the toughest dudes I knew.
This is always home. Plus, I like the bricks. I lived in J-town and had a nice apartment. I call this the bricks. I like the urban feel. I always loved the urban feel. I like having the ability just to walk up the street and walk to places. I like it. I like the density and the older homes. When I go to places like Chicago and Baltimore, I like that urban feeling. It’s not for everybody and I get that but it’s not so cookie cutter. Everything is different.
I have a little apprehension about the new development. I’m positive but I’m apprehensive because I know how these things normally go down. I like to consider myself a closet historian and once you study Louisville’s history, especially Louisville’s race relations, you kind of see the same kind of patterns repeat themselves. You see the same kind of dog and pony shows and the dangling of the carrot. You know, like, if you do this, you may get this and nothing never happens. Or it does happen but it doesn’t happen to your or your community’s benefit. So, I stay guardedly optimistic but at the same time, you have to be engaged. One of the reasons that they are able to move the carrot and play Whack-a-Mole with you is because you’re not engaged. You’re not always there. Someone’s not watching and seeing what’s going on and calling people out and telling them what’s wrong and that they shouldn’t be doing certain things.
The community needs a mechanism to get back to where we can have your locally black owned businesses. Just like you have all of those shops, clubs, and businesses on Bardstown Road, Russell was the same way. It was exactly the same way. You had Old Walnut Street, Broadway and Market Street. You had those corridors of high economic activity and that’s what we need to get back to. It’s not so much of bringing back the big boxes but we need to focus more on that aspect.
The biggest thing is getting people who care about the neighborhood, to move back into the neighborhood and take that leap of faith. Now, a lot of people don’t want to because there’s not a lot in Russell. It’s like the chicken and the egg. Nobody wants to move back here because of the services but you can’t get the services without the people. Specifically, you can’t get the services without the income. What comes first? You have the Cedar Street development, that has the new homes. They’re trying to entice people to move back with those homes and that’s a good thing but you have a lot of these older homes. One good thing about these older homes is that the way that they are made, they are infinitely repairable. It just takes the elbow grease and the resources. I try to tell a lot of people that it doesn’t take that much money to do something like get the house and repair it. You can get some of these houses for $5,000-$10,000 and take out a mortgage for $150,000 and you’ll have just as nice of a home like one in Old Louisville and you’ll do more with it. You’ll have your granite countertops and your stainless steel appliances. You would have a home that if you could pick it up and move it NuLu, you would have a $600,000 crib. If we can get more folks to move back in and take ownership of some of these properties, you would see a big change. It’s going to be an uphill struggle because the economy in Russell no longer exists with black folks in Louisville and that’s the biggest issue.
We had a lot of newly free blacks leaving the South and other parts of the Kentucky to come to Louisville because we had those jobs, like Philip Morris, Brown-Forman and tobacco warehouses. There were plenty of places for people to work. Then you had the L&N railroads. They had pullman porters back in the 20’s, 30’s and 50’s. Being a pullman porter was a big job and L&N was right there. You could walk to Union Station and go to work and come on back. There was a lot of that type of money being generated, which made it easier for guys like your A.D. Porter, Stiths and those guys to start businesses and have candy stores and things of that nature, to kind of generate that economic mercantile class that you need. It was that solid black middle class that you need to keep things going. Once Louisville’s manufacturing base started to leave. International Harvester closed and all the tobacco companies started to move away. L&N went under. Louisville changed from a manufacturer to more of a service economy. It took a lot of that wealth with it. Then you had urban renewal come in and it destroyed the last remaining of the strong black business districts. It was a one-two punch that was hard to recover from. It’s hard to get that back but you have to figure out a way to get that back and that is Louisville’s struggle. You know Louisville has a grant, right now, and they’re using that for Beecher Terrace. Louisville also has a Place of Promise grant, which seeks to revitalize Russell, without gentrification, and focuses on homeownership and getting jobs. The trick to it is that there is a lot of jobs in Russell but they don’t hire people from Russell. The jobs in Russell actually pay above the national and Kentucky average, as far as wages. They just don’t hire anybody from West Louisville and that’s a very big problem. Half the businesses here aren’t hiring anybody here. You’re still dealing with the racial inequalities and things of that nature.” - Haven, Russell