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A beloved Louisville Black History Month cultural calendar gets a new life

Five copies of colorful booklets featuring a similar image of an African mask scattered across a table.
Divya Karthikeyan
/
LPM
The African American History Month Cultural Events Calendar evolved over time. This year, it returns for the first time since its creator died.

In 1992, one man made it easier to find Black History Month events in Louisville. The calendar he created is now a historical artifact and his mentee is continuing his legacy.

In early 2022, Black historian Walter Hutchins knew the clock was ticking on his time on Earth. So Hutchins stayed true to his reputation of being a meticulous organizer. He began putting things in order and planned his funeral to be a solemn memorial service rooted in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

But months before he died in November 2022, Hutchins had one more loose end to tie up. He needed to bequeath responsibility for the annual African American History Month Cultural Events Calendar booklet he started 30 years before.

Hutchins handed it off to his mentee, Aukram Burton, the executive director of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage.

Burton said Hutchins saw a need decades ago that had to be filled. He started with a question: “Would people be interested in a booklet that pretty much promoted Black history events that took place in February?”

The cultural calendar included a comprehensive listing of events, exhibits, television programs, and talks happening around the state, and it promoted Black owned businesses.

Producing the calendar was a bootstrap operation, a one-man show starring Hutchins, Burton said.

“He would work out of the back of the trunk of his car,” said Burton, adding that Hutchins referred to himself as a “Black history promoter.”

Hutchins hopped from businesses to community organizations, selling ad space and asking them to distribute calendars.

For a dollar, Louisvillians could pick up the inaugural issue, a 12-page black-and-white booklet printed on wafer-thin, light pink paper.

It included Black history plays, talks and performances across the city, programs on KET and WKPC-TV Channel 15 (later merged with KET). The booklet also advertised Black-owned businesses, including the famed Louisville bakery Kizito Cookies.

A pink booklet with a cover image featuring an African mask and the words "African-American History Month Cultural Events Calendar" Louisville Feb. 1992, $1." It sits next to an issue from 2018 with similar imagery surrounded by a border collage of images of past issues.
Divya Karthikeyan
/
LPM
The first issue of the African American History Month Cultural Events Calendar next to a 25th anniversary edition from 2018.

The cover featured a slender African mask, a familiar image that also appeared on past issues. Imar Hutchins, a Washington D.C.-based artist and Hutchins’ son, designed the cover in recent years. Hutchins’ name graces the top of this year's cover.

Burton’s vision

On a recent afternoon, Burton leaned against a glass railing lining the performance space at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage. The center overlooked what was once Old Walnut Street – a historic African American business district. The road is now named for Muhammad Ali, the famed boxer whose memory and legacy resonates across Louisville..

Burton was dressed in a red and black patterned shirt over slacks. As he spoke, he gestured at a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by a Courier Journal photographer in 1975. It shows a handshake between a Black and a white student on the first day of busing in Louisville’s newly desegregated schools.

These days, Burton is contributing to a new chronicle of local Black history. The cultural calendar pioneered by Hutchins returned this year, produced by the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage under Burton’s leadership.

“I was kind of nervous in the beginning. But (Hutchins) pretty much had things in place. It made it really, really easy for us to produce this piece,” Burton said.

A man wearing a red and black patterned shirt gestures with both hands as he faces a wall featuring a colorful poster of information about Black history.
Divya Karthikeyan
/
LPM
Aukram Burton, executive director of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage.

Burton said, like oral histories and genealogy studies, the cultural calendar isn’t just a list of events. It’s a device, a tool to challenge historical accounts that have generally excluded Black communities or not been written by Black people themselves.

“Most of the history we learn is someone else’s story about us,” he said. “The cultural calendar is about celebrating African American history, but we also see it as a counter-narrative.”

That mindset reflects his vision for the calendar.

When church communities heard the calendar was coming back this year, many contacted the center, Burton said. They wanted to give out copies to congregants on Sundays. Burton said the center is also working on ways to involve other religious organizations, like mosques.

“The Black community, the African American community, is not a monolith. And if you look at the cultural calendar, I think it reflects that in many ways,” he said.

The 2024 calendar lists 65 different events across the city through mid-July, a dozen programs on KET and 20 advertisements.

As physical versions of magazines and event brochures continue to plummet in popularity, Burton is trying to meet the needs of older and younger audiences.

Louisville Free Public Library branches and the Louisville Urban League distribute free copies, Burton said.

This year, the physical booklet also features a QR code that links to an online version of the calendar. The center is also trying to archive previous issues online as a historical resource, he said.

Burton reflected on his vision for the calendar, as well as the Black elders who influenced him.

“I never called him Walter. I refer to him Baba Walter,” which Burton described as a term of endearment like daddy or mama. “It's a term of respect, because he is an elder. Baba Walter was a mentor to me.”

For Yvonne Jones, an anthropologist and associate professor at the University of Louisville, the cultural calendar is a sort of almanac. She’s also a board member at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage.

“I think west Louisville already knew about these events, and what (Hutchins) did was to, I guess you could say, set them down in history,” Jones said. “He understood the importance of putting things on paper.”

Jones said physical booklets are important because not everyone has access to the internet or can afford a computer.

“It costs money to have access to the internet. And it costs money to buy computers,” she said.

To Jones, the calendar is a cultural artifact.

“Because I’m an anthropologist and have an appreciation for history, I see this as a way in which our children and grandchildren will be able to look back and see how our history and culture was celebrated. I see it as a good document for historical understanding of Black progress and Black celebration,” she said.

Free copies of the 2024 African American History Month Cultural Events Calendar are available at:

  • Republic Bank (all branches), 
  • Louisville Free Public Library (all branches), 
  • Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, 1701 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. 
  • Louisville Urban League, 1535 W. Broadway

The Kentucky Center for African American Heritage gives financial support to Louisville Public Media.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.