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On a West End tour bus, pride and reflections of Black history abound 

Man holding microphone stands at the front of a charter bus, speaking with his right arm raised.
Divya Karthikeyan
Donovan Taylor leads the West End Neighborhood Bus Tour on Feb. 17, 2024.

A recent bus tour in Louisville explored the nine neighborhoods of the West End. It covered the region’s rich history, including the civil rights movement and honoring prominent local Black residents. 

Outside Central High School last Saturday afternoon, people made their way to board a charter bus. They were there for a history tour of west Louisville.

“I just want to see if we can all be together, OK? One…two…three…We ride! Let’s ride!” yelled the bus driver, Lonnie, leading riders in a chant.

The drone of the bus was drowned out by commotion, cackles and people scurrying for empty seats. It was a full house.

The bus was filled with recent transplants, longtime residents and community leaders. In one seat, there was an eager 12-year-old. Nearby, there was an 80-year-old woman who’s watched Louisville evolve since the 1950s.

Both had something in common: They didn’t know a lot about the history of west Louisville.

A cemetery seen through the window of a charter bus.
Divya Karthikeyan
West End Neighborhood History bus tour participants look on as they pass by the Greenwood Cemetery.

That afternoon, they relied on tour guide Donovan Taylor, who grew up in the Hallmark neighborhood. He now lives in Chickasaw, where he led the neighborhood association for a decade.

“I knew more about the many places in Chicago than I knew about in my own home. I knew more about a lot of things in Florida, where I went to school, than I know about my own home, and so I thought that was just great to have that knowledge and recognize those places out there,” he told LPM News.

Mic in hand, Taylor offered a brief introduction as the tour began. This was his first time offering the historical exploration of the West End to members of the public.

“This is really derived from my love for travel and my love for exploration, I consider myself an urban explorer,” he said.

The bus tour is an expansion of the smaller walking tours in Chickasaw Taylor hosted for eight years. He came up with the idea when he was a community history fellow at the Filson Historical Society last year.

The West End suffered disinvestment due to redlining and other racist policies. Through the tour, Taylor highlighted what residents there achieved despite those obstacles.

“We, as a city, can do better highlighting and marking our historic places and people,” he said.

The tour’s first stop was at West Chestnut Street. Taylor passed the mic to Natalie Woods, the Western Library’s branch manager.

In 1905, Western became the first public library in the nation built for and run by Black people.

Woods told the story of Albert Meyzeek, the Black high school principal who petitioned to build the library, but didn’t stop there.

“He also petitioned for time to go to the library and he was given one hour of time — and we’re not sure if that’s a week, a month or what it was — to go to the Main Library and they had to go through the back door,” Woods explained.

The tour moved on. Next stop, the Portland Museum.

A sign on a post for the Portland Museum
Divya Karthikeyan
The tour stopped at the Portland Museum.

Longtime resident Ann Hagan-Grigsby reflected on what the Western Library meant to her as she glanced at art in the museum.

“It was a place where I could go to learn and read, even though the world around me might have been challenging. The library always gave me a place to be that broadened my world,” Hagan-Grigsby said.

Twenty-six-year-old Bear Miles moved to Louisville to attend college. They said they came on the tour because they wanted to venture beyond the East End.

For them, hearing about the struggle of Louisville’s Black leaders felt disheartening and heartwarming at the same time.

“It reminded me of the turmoil that my culture went through to get to where we are today, but it also reminded me of the perseverance and strength we inherently have within ourselves as Black people,” they said.

As the tour continued through the West End’s nine neighborhoods, Taylor pointed out notable current landmarks — like the sprawling Chickasaw Park, “the former Louisville Ministry college that’s now Simmons College” — and the landmarks representing places from the past like Needmore, which Taylor explained is now better known as Little Africa.

A laminated copy of an archival photo
Divya Karthikeyan
Donovan Taylor passed around archival photos, like this Courier Journal image from 1968,when the Kentucky National Guard was stationed in the Parkland neighborhood amid mass riots.

Taylor’s eyes were fixed on the streets, trying to catch every single historic spot, but it was a blink-and-miss-it situation.

There seemed to be pieces of history at every corner, standing as testimonies to Black struggle, resistance and pride. And tour participants pitched in with their own insights, like when one person saw Elliott Park.

“That’s where the Louisville Slugger was first used,” they called out.

Taylor exclaimed at the finding. For him, hearing about the bat more than a fun fact – learning from participants was the kind of interactive experience he aimed for.

After three hours, the tour wrapped up. And Taylor was feeling good.

“You’re not just learning Black History, you’re learning, really, the history of the city and the area,” he said.

Taylor says he hopes to do more tours like this, and potentially venture into other parts of Louisville as well.

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

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