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Courier Journal’s first Black journalist, Merv Aubespin, dies at 86

Merv Aubespin in an interview with KET in 1998
Merv Aubespin was the first Black journalist and news artist at the Courier Journal. KET interviewed him about his career in 1998.

Merv Aubespin was the Courier Journal’s first Black journalist. He died Wednesday at the age of 86.

A pioneer in Black journalism and civil rights died Wednesday at the age of 86. Mervin “Merv” Aubespin’s 35-year career with the Courier Journal paved the way for other Black journalists in Louisville. In his lifetime, Aubespin was an artist, a reporter, a teacher, a mentor and an activist.

Aubespin was born in Opelousas, Louisiana in 1937. In 1951, he moved to Louisville where he became an active member in the local civil rights movement, according to reporting by the Courier Journal.

Aubespin became an advocate for public accommodations for Black Louisvillians in the 1950s-1960s. At the time, Black people were not allowed to try on clothes at retail stores, go to the movies or buy snacks in downtown Louisville.

“Everything needed to change at that point, absolutely everything,” Aubespin said in a 2011 interview with LPM. “I remember we had to march up and down Fourth Street on a daily basis, reminding people that it wasn't fair not to allow us in their stores and to utilize their facilities. And you did it day after day after day.”

These protests led to the passing of the open accommodations ordinance in 1963, which prohibited discrimination against African Americans in public places.

Aubespin also loved art. He fostered a strong community of Black artists including local sculptor Ed Hamilton. In 1967, the Courier Journal hired Aubespin as a news artist, the first Black person to serve in the role.

The following year, Aubespin was pulled in as a reporter to cover the racial unrest in west Louisville. Aubespin reported on the ground during the race riots, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He became the first Black reporter to work at the Courier Journal.

He was one of few journalists in the country who was selected to travel South Africa with then-president Nelson Mandela in 1996.

Aubespin retired from the local newspaper in 2002. By then, he was an associate editor, leaving behind a lasting impact on racial justice reporting and the Black journalism community.

One of those journalists is Edward Bowser, a former copy editor for the Courier Journal. He said Aubespin — whom he called “Uncle Merv” — was like family.

“Merv may not have been my uncle by blood, but for me and scores of young journalists, he was a home away from home.” Bowser said in a Facebook post following news of Aubespin’s death.

After his retirement, Aubespin continued his work towards supporting the Black community in Louisville.

In 2011, Aubespin co-authored "Two Centuries of Black Louisville," a collection of photos depicting the activism, culture and community among Black Louisvillians.

The book included two centuries of research done by Aubespin and co-writers Kenneth Clay and Dr. J. Blaine Hudson. It shed new light on critical parts of Louisville’s history

In a 2011 with LPM News, Aubespin noted the innovation inherent in Louisville’s Black communities since the mid-1800s.

“Since nobody was letting us in, we found our own,” Aubespin said. “That's always been the case, and that's what I found absolutely fascinating as we researched the books, the many times that we created our own because we were left out of the mainstream.”

Aubespin was also recognized as someone who paved his own way.

He founded the first local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. He has been inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame and the NABJ Hall of Fame. He received several awards in his lifetime, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award.

Giselle is LPM's breaking news reporter. Email Giselle at grhoden@lpm.org.

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