Monday, December 25, 2017

12/25 Louisville's first Christmas and the Legacy of Cato Watts

Mildred Hill.
Courtesy of the University Of Louisville Photo Archives
On December 25th, Christmas Day, Louisville's first black resident saved Christmas.
Many of you Louisville history buffs will be quite familiar with that remark, as well as the name Cato Watts. It is a story that has been well documented and written about many times since its occurrence in 1778.

The facts we do know about Watts have been heavily researched and written about in journals dating back over 100 years. But what we do not know about Cato Watts is just as curious given the amount of time spent chronicling his life.

What we do know about Watts is that he was both the first black resident, and the first musician of Louisville; given that he was present during the founding of Louisville, standing amidst Col. George Rogers Clark as the settlement was founded, we can be certain these facts are true.

 Watts also carries the title of Louisville's first slave. Accounts overtime on this vary; over the last 100 years the different published accounts of Watts refer to him in different ways: the 1940 account, 'The Negro In Kentucky,' by G. W. Jackson refers to Watts as a 'Negro servant', but written in the 20th century the omission of the word 'slave' was perhaps careful footstepping. The 1896 account,
Music History of Louisville,  by musicologist and famed writer of the melody for 'Happy Birthday', Mildred J. Hill  refers to Watts as a 'negro fiddler', and Reuben Thomas Durrett's work just two years prior to Hill's, in The Romance of the Origin of Louisville, Durrett refers to Watts in several different ways, including the nickname of 'The Old Standby'  before settling on 'slave'.

Watts arrived in the area as the servant of Captain John Donne attached to Col. George Rogers Clark's expedition. They set up a settlement on May 27, 1778 during the Revolutionary War, on Corn island in the Ohio river just across from modern day 12th street. When Clark's militia departed 60 civilian settlers remained behind in 1778 and since that day there has always been a European presence in this area.

Corn Island, on the other hand, is all but gone. In the 1800s The Louisville Cement Company extracted rock for cement and the removal of trees from the island contributed to erosion, which washed much of the island away by 1895. The rest of Corn island is now permanently underwater, although a Louisville family by the name of James has held the deed on Corn Island for generations and still pays an annual land tax.

On December 25th of 1778 the settlement had a Christmas feast and dance on the site that is now 12th street. According to the Filson Club the music was supplied by Jean Nickle, a french fiddler that only played 'French airs', but was unpopular amongst the settlers who wanted more 'lively tunes' to dance to. The settlers soon replaced him with Cato Watts who played the more popular genres of Irish jigs and Virginia reels, thus creating the legend of 'the slave that saved the first Louisville Christmas.'

According to Hill, Watts was well regarded amongst the settlers for his fiddle playing, but the strings on his instrument had long been broken, so when a fresh instrument appeared, as a near Christmas miracle perhaps, the settlers where all to happy to commandeer Nickle's fiddle for Watts' use. Hill, a Louisville native and music reacher specializing in the study of Negro Spirituals, ended her manuscript in a curious note. "Cato's music was certainly the music of the people and.." she wrote, " if a history of Kentucky music is to be written, a large portion should be written about the negro in our state, but the music of the negro in a  city is of little interest because he is so surrounded and influenced by the whites that his own loses its characteristics, and therefore, its interest."

In addition to being Louisville's first black resident, first slave, and first musician, Cato Watts has two more distinctions: the first person to be tried for murder in Louisville and first resident hung to death in Louisville.

According to Durrett's 1893 account, Watts knocked down John Donne that resulted in Donne's death. Watts was tried and convicted in 1787. According to J. Blaine Hudson, in an article in the August 1999 Filson Club Quarterly, "The above named Cato Watts was led to the Bar, and upon Examination says that he knocked the said Donne down but that it was not with the intention to kill him." Regardless the man who saved Christmas was found guilty and hanged from a large oak tree which stood where the court house now stands, currently surrounded by the city's Light Up Louisville installation, and in view of the city's 40 foot Christmas tree.
 "He killed his owner as he claimed by accident, but was tried and hung for the crime.." wrote Durrett in his 1893 account,  "much to sorrow of the young people who enjoyed his music at their dances."

an artist rendition of Cato Watts defeating Jean Nickle, from 'Stories of Old Kentucky'
 by Martha C. Grassham Purcell, c1915


The Romance of the Origin of Louisville by Reuben Thomas Durrett

'The Negro In Kentucky,' by G. W. Jackson

Fiddling With Cato by R D Hardesty

Music History of Louisville by Mildred Hill


Thursday, November 23, 2017

November 23rd 1918: As for Victory Parades, 3rd time's a charm (Vol.1 Issue 6)

On  November 23rd, 1918, the Saturday before Thanksgiving,  a Parade was held in downtown Louisville to commemorate the end of the first World War.

10,000 troops from Camp Zachary Taylor, as well as marching bands and civic groups made their way from Clay and Broadway past the courthouse and ending at Central Park amidst tens of thousands of cheering Louisvillians, according to the Courier-Journal.

This was the first official parade commemorating the victory of the Allied Powers in World War I, but two previous unofficial parades were also held in Louisville. The first, on November 7th, was described as a "riot of joy" by the C-J, after a fire station bell was rung and mistakingly taken as notice for the end of the war, creating an impromptu parade down 4th street.

The second parade occurred on November 11th, Armistice Day, the actual day the war ended, and began at the Courier-Journal offices by publisher Judge Robert Bingham and spilled into the street. Thousands joined the parade that stretched for half a mile and included fireworks and a lynched effigy of Kaiser Wilhelm II with a sign that read "Damn His Damn Hide" hanging from the C-J office windows.

'Armistice Parade, Louisville, Kentucky, 1918'
(Courtesy of University of Louisville Archives & Special Collections)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

November 18th 1926: First Royalty to visit Louisville to much delight, and a few children's sadness (Vol.1 Issue 5)

On Thursday November 18th, 1926, Louisville was visited by Marie of Romania, the first Queen to visit our city.
Beginning in October of 1926 Queen Marie took a well publicized diplomatic tour of the United States and Canada and was greeted by fanfare at all stops on her trip.

according to 'On Tour With Queen Marie' by Constance Lily Morris, who traveled with the Queen and chronicled her trip,  The Queen entered the U.S. on October 18th. After visiting New York and Washington D.C. the Queen toured Canada before returning to the U.S. via North Dakota and heading to Chicago.

Reaching Chicago of November 16th, she got word that the King of Romania had fallen sick and it was decided to cut her tour short and return home.
On November 17th it was announced that she would return home and scheduled stops in Cincinnati, Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh were all canceled. At the last minute the Queen decided to keep the Louisville engagement and at 11am (an hour later than planed) her entourage arrived at the Louisville train station.

Queen Marie was greeted by Mayor Will at City Hall, before a tour of Cherokee Park. The tour then headed down Bardstown road for a visit of The Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown.
Governor Fields presided as host in a reception at the home. For dinner fried chicken was served and and an all black vocal quintet sang spirituals.  Marie was presented with an original copy of the poem "The Old Kentucky Home Good Night."

She next traveled to Hodgenville to visit Abraham Lincoln's birthplace before returning to Louisville that evening for a ball in her honor.

By all accounts the Louisville trip was a success, save for one. The Courier-Journal reported that several hundred students at the William R. Belknap School in the Highlands waited in the wintery weather for a glimpse of the Royal motorcade, but due to the late arrival and last minute changes to the Queen's itenerary the children had missed their chance.

Queen Marie and her children, Prince Nicholas and Princess Ileana,
on tour of the U.S. and Canada

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 10th 1976: 40th Anniversary of the Manual High School Race Riots (Vol.1 Issue 4)

On November 10th, 1976, a violent incident at duPont Manual High School resulted in over 30 students suspended, 16 students injured, and 8 arrested by the Louisville Police department.

According to duPont Manual historian Mike McDaniel in his 2005 book on the history of the school, November 11, 1976 was "quite probably the worst day in the history of Manual."

The incident, referred to as a 'race riot' by the Board of Education and faculty at the school,  was extensively covered by reporter Wanda Nichols, in several articles in the Courier Journal.

According to Nichols investigation, tensions had been rising between white and black students for awhile at the school, but unrelated to the 'busing for desegregation' disturbances happening around the same time, such as at Durrett and Fairdale high schools, as Manual was exempt from court-ordered busing because its racial makeup already met federal guidelines; At the time duPont Manual had about 1,600 white students and 800 black students.

Students reported to Nichols that for some time white students complained that they were punished more harshly than black students for infractions. Manual Principal George Sauer addressed parents at a meeting that night reassuring parents that 'We don't care what color they are. The same offense gets the same punishment regardless of race.'

But students told Nichols that the riot that occurred in the cafeteria on the morning of November 10 was over an incident with two black students who had previously been suspended returned returned to school that morning and harmed a white girl. Next 150 white students stormed the hallways chanting 'White Power' which resulted in a vicious clash in the cafeteria shortly before 11 am. that ended with 20 police officers rushing into the school to stop the riot. An unnamed security guard told Nichols "those kids were really trying to kill each other."

Wanda Nichols found that two Manual girls were treated at area hospitals for injuries congruent with a physical assault, although one of the girls, Bonnie Boston, reported that she was unable to determine the race of the assailants. For the rest of the week Manual High School was surrounded by police cars and guarded by over a dozen officers. "The worst I've ever been hurt in 18 years I've been in the school system" Principle Sauer told Nichols about the actions of his students; "I was ashamed. I was embarrassed."

The history of duPont Manual High School shows an altogether opposite interpretation of tolerance than of the actions on November 10th 1976. dupont Manual High School is an amalgamation of two High Schools, Female High School (opened in 1856 as the counterpart to Male High School) and duPont Manual Training High School (for boys) opening in 1892. They merged in 1950 becoming the coeduactional duPont Manual High School.
And even though Male and Manual have the oldest football rivalry in the state (dating back to 1893), the two schools (and football teams) successfully merged from 1915 to 1919.

duPont Manual eventually moved past the incident, what Principal Sauer called the "blemish on the school's name," and in 1991 Manual was recognized as a Blue Ribbon School  by the United States Department of Education, the highest honor the department can bestow on a school.

duPont Manual High School (Public Domain Photo)

Source Guide:

 "Stand Up and Cheer : the Official History of du Pont Manual High School, Louisville, Kentucky" by Mike McDaniel (2005). 

"Racial Fight at Manual High School causes several injuries,  two arrests" by Wanda Nichols in the Courier-Journal. Nichols, Wanda (1976-11-11).  

"Calm Restored, Manual Seeks Causes of Unrest" by Wanda Nichols in the  Courier-Journal. (1976-11-12). 

 "Manual teachers want money for more security guards" by Wanda Nichols in the  Courier-Journal. (1976-11-13). 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

November 2nd, 1920: Power of the Vote Gives Black Citizens a Chance for a future (Vol. 1 issue 3)

   On November 2nd, 1920, Louisvillians voted on the University of Louisville's municipal bond issue for using $1 Million of taxpayer money to expand it's Belknap Campus. The bond issue needed a two-thirds 'affirmative' vote for passage, but the bond issue failed by more than four thousand votes.

The University of Louisville's written history by the the University Archives and Records Center states that the university at the time believed that only the passage of this bond issue would insure the University's future but the municipal bond was defeated by a concerted effort by the African American community in Louisville using the power of the vote to voice their needs.

U of L at that time did not accept black students, and yet was looking for taxpayer money to fund the institution.  According to The University of Louisville, a written history of the University by Dwayne D. Cox and William J. Morison, The black community expressed their opposition on the grounds that tax dollars from black Louisvillians would be used to support higher education for white students only, they forced the university and the city to make funds available for African American higher education if they wanted to see the bond issue pass.

The University worked with leaders in the black community who wanted an African American liberal arts university established in Louisville. The University of Louisville Trustees agreed to set aside 10% of the $1 million bond issue ($100,000) for this purpose and in 1925 the bond issue was passed due to the support of the black community.

On February 9, 1931, the Louisville Municipal College for Negroes opened under the administration of the Board of Trustees of the University of Louisville, for the purpose of meeting the higher education needs of the black community. With 6 faculty members, under the instruction of Dr. Rufus Clement as Dean, the school offered a four year liberal arts curriculum and had a inaugural class of 83 students.

The Louisville Municipal College was one of only three liberal arts colleges for African Americans established in the United States at that time and operated for 20 years, with Florence Johnson as its first graduate and graduating more than 500 students by the time it closed in 1952.

Louisville Municipal College for Negroes
(Courtesy of University of Louisville 

Archives & Special Collections)

Reference List:
Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (U of K)

University of Louisville Database on Louisville Municipal College

The University of Louisville By Dwayne D. Cox, William J. Morison

Sunday, October 29, 2017

October 29, 1960: Muhammad Ali Vs The Lawman (Vol.1 Issue 2)

     On October 29th, 1960, Louisville Boxing legend Muhammad Ali (known as Cassius Clay until his name change in 1964) made his professional debut at Freedom Hall in Louisville, winning a six-round match against professional boxer and police chief of Fayetteville, West Virginia, Tunney Hunsaker. Also born in Kentucky (in 1930 in Caldwell County) the more seasoned Hunsaker, whose eyes had been swollen shut during the fight, spoke graciously of his defeat according to a 1961 article in The Ring Magazine, remarking "Clay was as fast as lightning" and "I tried every trick I knew... but he was just too good!"

Ali, also known as The Louisville Lip, was well known for his trash talking of rival boxers but in regards of his first professional opponent, Ali spoke highly of his talent, remarking that one of the hardest hits he ever received in the ring was delivered by Hunsaker.

    Hunsaker's boxing career ended just two years later after a knockout punch by professional boxer Joe Shelton left him in a coma for nine days. Hunsaker recovered and continued to serve Fayetteville West Virginia as police chief for 38 years and was inducted into the Law Enforcement Hall Of Fame.

According to Ali's autobiography the two remained good friends throughout their lives.  Tunney Hunsaker died at the age of 75 in 2005 after a long battle with Alzheimer's Disease.

Reference List:
1961 article "Glove Action" in The Ring Magazine.
Box Rec: Tunney Hunsaker
Law Enforcement Hall of Fame:
The Greatest: My Own Story - Muhammad Ali

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

October 18 1918: The City Is Saved By Women (Vol.1 Issue 1)

Sealbach Hotel circa 1905. Public Domain
On October 18th, 1918, an emergency meeting was held at the Sealbach Hotel concerning the rapid spread of the influenza virus in Louisville. The outbreak, known later as the 1918 Flu Pandemic that would infect 500 million people worldwide, spread quickly around the world aided by the movement of troops involved in WWI. Military installations tended to be hit hardest, and Louisville happened to house the largest World War I Army training camp in North America, Camp Zachary Taylor.  Camp Taylor housed over 45,000 enlistees and officers in 1,530 buildings over 3,376 acres.

On September 24 the Louisville Times reported over 100 soldiers at the camp had caught the flu. By the next day that number more than doubled, and within a week it had infected 2,100 soldiers.
Officers at Camp Taylor enacted measures to protect the city; soldiers were prohibited from entering movie theaters, restaurants, and other establishments in Louisville. Military Police were stationed in strategic  locations in town to stop soldiers from entering the public but it was too late. On October 12th the health department reported 2,300 cases in the general population.

By the time members of the state Board of Health, the U. S. Public Health Service, military authorities, and Kentucky health officers met at the Sealbach Hotel the city was in a desperate situation. The Louisville Board of health reported citizens falling over in the streets across the city.
The meeting proved effective, albeit with decisions unpopular to the public; The state Board of Health ordered effective the next day all saloons, soda stands, and malt shops must close between 6:30 pm until 6:30 am. Churches and synagogues could open for individual prayer and meditation only as well as a ban on public funerals. A state-wide order closing all churches, schools, and places of amusement was also in effect.
Louisville citizens banded together volunteering their services. The Women’s Service League and Louisville Automobile Club worked together in organizing a motor pool to help nurses carry out house calls. The Louisville Times reported that the women in particular aided in the effort, donating their automobiles and services to help the nurses make an astounding 2,589 house calls by the end of the month. Nurses were working seven days a week trying to stop the epidemic. The Louisville Board of Health reported having to force nurses and volunteers to take breaks and rest as they were pushing themselves too far in trying to keep up with so many infected.
The work was intensive and took its toll on the medical community and volunteers alike, but it worked. The Currier-Journal reported a decline in reported cases on November 11th. At a second meeting at the Sealbach it was decided that the citywide ban could be lifted and by the holidays the city began to get back to normal. Schools and places of worship reopened, saloons and soda shops too.
Although the toll was great, the Louisville board of health reported 6,736 cases of influenza, with 577 deaths between late September and mid November, it was far less than other metropolitan areas in the region, with Cincinnati, Dayton, and Nashville being hit worse.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates between 30 and 50 million people worldwide died during the pandemic, making it one of the worst natural disasters in human history, with an estimated 675,000 Americans among the dead.

1918 Red Cross Station for Flu Pandemic.
Library of Congress. Public Domain

Reference List:
University of Michigan Digital Library
U.S. Government Influenza Archive
1918 Flu Pandemic Wiki