Late Louisville Urban League leader remembered for impact on city, Black communities
Benjamin Richmond, who headed the Louisville Urban League for nearly three decades, died last week at the age of 80.
Benjamin Richmond’s friends and colleagues describe his 28 years of service leading the Louisville Urban League as “foundational.” He helped build the League into the city’s most prominent Black-led organization focused on racial equity and economic development. He died on Jan. 16 after battling acute myeloid leukemia.
Lyndon Pryor, the League’s current president and CEO, said Richmond excelled at forming relationships with people in “positions of power and privilege,” and leveraging those relationships to build a more just city. Pryor said Richmond created a strong foundation for his successor, Sadiqa Reynolds.
“He did a lot of things, albeit somewhat quietly, to move this city forward and be able to position this organization in such a way that when Sadiqa arrived she was able to catapult it to the next level,” Pryor said.
In a statement, Reynolds said Richmond’s help was crucial to bringing to life her idea for a track and field complex in west Louisville.
“He didn’t hesitate to offer his support and influence,” Reynolds said. “He was always willing to work to help me and the League. He was a movement man.”
Richmond’s work behind the scenes, building relationships in boardrooms and the offices of public officials, put him in contrast with other prominent Black leaders of his time. He was contemporaries with Rev. Louis Coleman Jr., a significant local civil rights leader who frequently spoke out against poverty and injustice from behind a pulpit or a bullhorn.
Local NAACP branch President Raoul Cunningham said he served on the Jefferson County Racial Fairness Commission in the early 2000s alongside Richmond and Coleman. He said the two took different approaches, but each made lasting contributions to the civil rights movement.
“I think that approach has to be taken today, where different organizations have different tactics all geared toward the betterment and advancement of social justice, economic justice and civil rights,” Cunningham said.
But not all of Richmond’s work was out of the public eye.
One of his biggest accomplishments as president was building the League’s headquarters at 1535 W. Broadway, where it remains today.
Richmond also created REBOUND, Inc. in 1990. The nonprofit development partnership between the League, the city and Main Street Realty has to date built more than 300 houses in the Russell neighborhood with the goal of increasing Black homeownership.
And in the early 2000s, as Louisville began planning an arena near the waterfront, Richmond pushed officials to increase the number of minority-owned businesses involved in building what would become the KFC Yum! Center.
“Because we sit in 2024, these things don’t feel as flashy, but those are the things that set the tone for what Louisville should be and how Louisville should move,” Pryor said. “And him setting those benchmarks has allowed for us and other organizations to come behind and do bigger things as a result.”
Originally from Jackson, Mississippi, Richmond moved to Louisville in 1987 to take the reins of the League from outgoing President Arthur Walters, a World War II veteran who was well-respected in the community.
At that time, Charles Henderson was on the League’s board and said he was tasked with helping Richmond get acquainted with Louisville and find a place to live. Henderson suggested Richmond “live amongst the folks that you serve” in west Louisville. Richmond bought a home on Northwestern Parkway where he lived until recently, when his health started to decline.
Henderson and Richmond worked closely together in planning the LUL headquarters, he said, and eventually the two became close friends.
“If you were his friend, you were his friend,” Henderson said. “There was absolutely nothing he wouldn’t do for anyone he cared about.”
Richmond never married or had children, but he cared deeply about his two siblings and his nieces and nephews, Henderson said.
Outside of his work with the League, Richmond was known for his musical talents.
He had a bachelor’s degree in music from Tougaloo College, a historically Black institution in Mississippi. Early in his adult life, he spent seven years touring Europe with an opera troupe. Henderson said he often talked about wanting to go back and retrace some of his steps.
“Ben led a great life and had an opportunity to do a lot of things that a lot of folks never thought much about doing,” he said.
Although he lived in many places throughout his life, Henderson said Richmond told those close to him as his health declined in recent years that he wanted to be buried in Louisville. There will be a memorial service for Richmond on Saturday at St. Stephen Baptist Church. After that, he’ll be buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, in company with some of the city’s most respected leaders.
“Often men asked if Ben was going to be buried at home,” Henderson said. “My response to them has been, ‘Yes, he will be buried at home here in Louisville,’ because he considered Louisville his home.”
Visitation: Friday, Jan. 26 from 4-7 p.m. at St. Stephen Baptist Church (1018 S. 15th St.)
Memorial: Saturday, Jan. 27 viewing and visitation from 10-11 a.m. Service from 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. at St. Stephen Baptist Church
Richmond will be buried at Cave Hill Cemetery.
This story was updated to include details about funeral arrangements.