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Louisville Activist Louis Coleman's Life Made Into Musical

Tara Anderson

To his family and friends, he was "Buster."

To Louisville, he was the Rev. Louis Coleman, for years one of the city's most vocal and visible civil rights leaders.

“Nobody would mistake him for a leader, the way he looked, the way he talked, although he had two degrees," said Larry Muhammad, who covered Coleman for The Courier-Journal.

Muhammad has written an original play, "Buster!" about the life of Coleman, who he describes as an unlikely hero.

"He had a lot of credibility nationwide, but to look at him back then—it took me a while, doing the interviews, doing the research for the play, I could see him clearer," Muhammad said.

Gospel music provides the soundtrack for “Buster!" Muhammad said he didn’t initially set out to write a musical, but decided that the story of the Louisville civil rights leader would benefit from some songs.

"The subject matter was serious, and I wanted to lighten it. He was a social justice activist but he was also a religious figure. So I thought if we brought some music in—not only gospel music, but we repurposed a lot of public domain music," Muhammad said.

In addition to Coleman, who died in 2008, the play depicts other Louisville social activists, including Anne Braden, Mattie Earl Mathis and Bobby Burks. Muhammad spent years doing research as part of his writing process.

“There were 1,200 newspaper stories on him, and then I did a good 25 interviews with social justice activists, religious figures, his family, who told me all kinds of stories about him,” Muhammad said.

This is the first production from Kentucky Black Repertory Theatre, which plans to produce more plays about black history in Kentucky. “Buster!” runs this weekend and next weekend at the Henry Clay Theatre.