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"Smoketown" (Neighborhood Analysis paper)

Patricia D. McClendon, MSSW candidate

SW 605 - Spring 1992

To see the specific assignment, click here or see below.


After reading the Courier Journal, Sept. 25, 1991 article about Smoketown my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to learn more about Smoketown and see for myself where the monument site would be. I drove through Smoketown the next day and realized that I was in one of the worst neighborhoods in town. The forthcoming monument would be placed where several dumpsters were overflowing with trash The houses, mostly shotgun cottages, were in dilapidated condition. There were a lot of abandoned houses and vacant lots. I didn't notice any remodeling going on. Older women looked out of their front doors and appeared afraid to go outside. Every now and then, there was a well-maintained house or two. A few people were outside doing yard work or washing their cars. There were a lot of people sitting around on front porch steps or hanging around the liquor stores or on the street corners. The residents looked at me as if to say: Why are you here? What are you looking at? And, get out of here, you re not welcome. So I did leave after driving through the area.

This current class assignment brings me back to Smoketown a truly forgotten neighborhood. I first called Cynthia Wilson, the writer of recent Smoketown articles, and asked her about how I might find out more about Smoketown. I told her about the assignment. She tried to discourage me about using Smoketown for my neighborhood analysis paper. She said there was not much material on it and that she had spent three months doing research on Smoketown in order to write about it. She suggested that I talk to Robert Douglas, chairman of Pan African Studies at U. of L., because he was a local resident of Smoketown for 18 years.

I spoke to Robert Douglas who said that the people who could afford to leave Smoketown did so because the goal for many people is to own their own home: it represented status to many. Mr. Douglas wondered why the city hasn't tried to get businesses to move into Smoketown. He was very skeptical about any urban renewal projects slated for Smoketown. The city has been talking about urban renewal for Smoketown for over 30 years. He felt if any urban renewal did occur, the work would be awarded to some large construction company who would be able to get federal funds and who would end up selling the apartments or condominiums when they start deteriorating. They would sell to someone who would not make any improvements for about 10 years and then they would sell them. So in 20 years or so, you'd be right back where you started from. He said, "Apartments can't make a neighborhood". Mr. Douglas felt that any money that was to be spent on Smoketown should be given to individual residents or businesses. Local residents would be able to bond to the neighborhood. They wouldn't necessarily be planning on moving every 10 years or so.

The following is a chronological narrative of Smoketown from 1866 to the present. It now appears to be more of a transitory neighborhood that is becoming more anomie as time passes.



Smoketown may have gotten its name from the smoke billowing out of factory smokestacks. James Jackson is dubious and "talks about the time he and his family left the potato fields of St. Matthews 76 years ago for the promise of a better life in town. And Jackson, 92, recalls that in those days, it was commonplace for a white man to beckon Negroes by yelling: 'Hey smokies' 'And there were a lot of us here' Jackson said, pondering the possibility that Smoketown's name may have originated with a racial slur. He waved that notion away like a bad smell."1

The Civil War was over and Louisville's black population doubled from 1860 to 1870. Louisville's black population was nearly 15,000 in 1870. Some blacks continued to live with their former owners but other blacks moved to the California neighborhood west of downtown and the Smoketown neighborhood east of downtown. The California neighborhood was racially mixed. Smoketown was settled in 1866 by freemen leasing lots and shotgun cottages from whites. The Eastern Colored School was the first building paid for by public funds and was completed in 1871 in Smoketown.2

Apparently, the function of the black neighborhoods was segregation. "Some occupations in Louisville were practically restricted to blacks. Hack drivers, barbers, waiters, cooks, hotel domestics, draymen, roustabouts on the wharfs, well-diggers, and laborers in general were overwhelming black."3 "...In black Louisville barbering continued as a high-prestige occupation (because of contact with influential whites), felt to occupy positions of trust and hence prestige. Yet most blacks eked out a marginal existence as day laborers, while others found bar rooms and gambling dens more congenial."4

Louisville s black population was about 40,000 (18% of the population) in 1910. "The Negro community had also developed its own social strata, the top level being educators, ministers, attorneys and physicians, who generally chose the area west of downtown to live. Here they occupied the larger homes on Walnut and Chestnut streets that had once been the homes of well-to-do whites."5

The 1950 census found 10,653 people lived in Smoketown.6 In 1956 federal funding was obtained for a small scale rehabilitation project in Smoketown.7 That was the same year that blacks and whites started attending school together.8

Smoketown was a blue-collar area in the 1950's with fairly decent housing but the neighborhood started its steady decline in the late 1950 s. Many companies left the area after stricter environmental laws were passed. Many residents also left the area as better housing became available in other areas With much of the higher social strata of blacks gone, there was little economic base left in the community. The small businesses went out of business or moved to more viable locations.9

In 1970, most families in Smoketown were run by women and the median income was $3,913 a year. The unemployment rate was 14.3 percent. The median education was 9th grade.10 In 1971, "the average income of Smoketown's 6000 occupants is less than $2500... The vast majority are on welfare of one kind or another' Less than a third of the adult population own their homes. The average adult's education ends after the eighth grade." Drug dealing, prostitution, theft gave Smoketown the highest crime rate in the city in 1971. By 1980, Smoketown had lost 34% of its population and a 16.3% decrease in livable housing. The unemployment rate was about 40%, 4000 people on foodstamps, and 580 women receiving AFDC payments.11 The 1980 census found 3,332 people lived in Smoketown, a decline of 69 percent since 1950.12

The crime in Smoketown had gotten so bad that many residents were afraid to go outside their houses. In November of 1981 there had been 2 shootings which finally prompted the 5th District police to put an officer on foot patrol. It made some of the residents feel better but didn't really stop the crime.13

In 1981, Steve Magre, 5th Ward Alderman, helped get the city to allot more than $36,000 to develop plans to save Smoketown. But some fear any redevelopment plan might level most of the neighborhood and turn it into a "mini-Plainview" and dislocate most of the current residents. Rev. Louis Coleman, executive director of the Presbyterian Community Center, "wants a massive federal relief program for Smoketown. Coleman has difficulty containing his anger and frustration when he notes that nearby neighborhoods such as Phoenix Hill and Merriwether are being revitalized with federal money, and Smoketown is not...We are just overlooked We are this city's best-kept secret."14

Many people remember Smoketown because of the 1984 slaying of two Trinity High School students whose bodies were dumped in Smoketown. Many residents fear this incident has scared the city from attempts to revitalize Smoketown.

In 1987, the City of Louisville lead by Mayor Jerry Abramson was considering another redevelopment study of Smoketown. The board of Aldermen were asked for $16,500 to pay for the study which would include going over the 1982 study. Rev. Louis Coleman said, "We've been studied to death...Studies don't put any food on the table, any money in the pocket, a roof over your head...What the people of Smoketown would love to have is gainful employment, a way to earn their own way...Why doesn't the city take that money and use it to help attract a company to Smoketown...Why don't they find a way to bring a shopping center, a grocery here? That s what we need."15

Rev. Louis Coleman started a youth-employment project June 22, 1987 called "I Am My Brother's/Sister's Keeper" to help youth who were by-passed by government-sponsored programs The youth were paid for spending time with young children living at Sheppard Square housing projects. The program was expected to last only 3 or 4 weeks before the funds were expected to run out. The youth were paid $3.35 and hour, which was the minimum wage at the time.16

In 1987, the 423-unit Sheppard Square housing project was "'pretty stable'...largely because of the $450,000 Oasis program...The program included increased security aimed at ridding the complex of the 'bad elements and the dopers' and keeping unruly people from gathering in the streets...People who break the law or the rules of the Housing Authority can be evicted." But that didn't really deter several rock throwing incidences which occurred starting on September 30, 1988 resulting in minor injuries to the car's occupants. Cars making wrong turns and ending up at the dead-end at Lampton Street were pelted with rocks and beer bottles. 17 "Hancock was a through street until May 1983...until the Louisville Board of Aldermen voted to close Hancock Street at Lampton permanently, and a curb was built there...The road was closed after two children had been hit and injured by cars in separate accidents...[It was] a way to eliminate speeding cars in an area with heavy pedestrian traffic.''18

The Presbyterian Community Center is at 760 S. Hancock Street and is Smoketown's spiritual and community center. The center is frequented by many who now feel safer with the road blocked off.

"Since January 1988, the city has targeted more than 300 pieces of property to be acquired and held...'Landbanking' is one of the first steps recommended in a 1988 study to determine what could be done to revitalize Smoketown." The plans price tag ranges from $2.2 million for a partial overhaul to $60 million for a complete overhaul. The plan also called for an overall "cleanup" of the neighborhood and a $4.3 million renovation of Sheppard Square housing complex.19

Shirley Beard, owner of Shirley Mae's Cafe at 802 S. Clay Street at Lampton Street and one of the organizers of a "Salute to Black Jockeys of the Kentucky Derby" is disappointed in the lack of recognition of blacks in local and national history. "'I would say a good 99 percent of the black people in America don't know the real history behind the Kentucky Derby', Beard explained...Their disinterest is in large part, due to the subtle exclusion of blacks today from not only the decision-making bodies, but from the Kentucky Derby memoirs, as well...Very few people know that the first winner of the Kentucky Derby was a black jockey by the name of Oliver Lewis...Isaac Murphy...was not only the first three-time winner and back-to-back winner of the Kentucky Derby, he was also one of the most respected jockeys of the late 1900's."20 Beginning around 1905, black riders and trainers were intimidated and eventually pushed off of the thoroughbred track. They were replaced with Irish and Germans.21

Smoketown held the 1990 Block Party Salute to the Black Jockeys of the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Beard said "there is an expressed purpose for holding this event here Just as the history of the black jockeys have been abandoned, this once proud black community has also been abandoned." In fact, WLOU, Louisville's largest black radio station refused to support the event because it is being held in a "very bad area", an area with housing project and high crime. Beard's response was "You cannot change an area by ignoring it. If the black community leaders do not play a part in revitalizing this area, why should City Hall or anyone else, for that matter?...We as community leaders have abandoned our history in this community simply because it is not as attractive as we'd like it to be...simply because it carries the stain of unemployment, broken family units and abandoned hope. "Rekindling pride...that's what this event is all about."22

The organizers of The Salute to Black Jockeys Inc. had Whoopi Goldberg in May 1990 and Morgan Freeman, Zia Garrison and B. B. King in May 1991 at their celebration in Smoketown. Bill Simpson, one of the organizers, said getting corporate sponsors has been difficult..."23

In 1990, Joe Cleasant and a group of men (ages 25 to 33) "formed Ghetta Life Society (pronounced Get-a-Life) to not only 'raise the expectations' of the community's youth but provide them with more activities and positive experiences." Joe Cleasant is hoping this will be a healthy alternative to crime and drugs. This group is hoping to fill the shoes of Fred Stoner and Willie Carter. "Stoner, who trained young Louisville boxers, including Muhammad Ali, and Carter, a former equipment manager and trainer at Male High School, were community youth leaders who organized sports leagues, educational field trips and activities for Smoketown's youth for more than 20 years. Both are dead now...Back then we had gangs and we wore colors. But it was green and we were called the Boy Scouts", recalled Daniel Guess, Sr., 29. Ghetta Life Society hopes their organization will grow to include a building to coordinate community activities from.24

The Presbyterian Community Center (PCC) was founded in 1898 by John Little. The PCC is the "oldest social service provider in Louisville. It administers 3 separate departments: community family services, child care services and social development department." PCC is non-profit supported in part by Metro United Way, Louisville Presbytery, and other churches and agencies (see attached brochure).25

The PCC serves bologna sandwiches in the gymnasium to children and some adults as part of "the center's new After School Feeding Program which operates from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The program"...begun on February 25, 1991 "is paid for from the Norton Foundation, said the Rev. Ted Adams, the center's executive director. Some of the food is donated by local charities - Dare-to-Care, Kentucky Harvest and Wayside Mission, Adams said." Adams feels this early meal is the last of the day for many of the children. The money for the grant is expected to run out in June.26

Smoketown residents fearing drugs and crime at parks are glad Ballard Park, behind the PCC, has been remodeled and its name changed to Ballard Basketball Park. The old tennis courts "have been replaced with two full-sized basketball courts and two sets of bleachers...Lights were also installed. Meanwhile, the basketball courts at Lampton Park were removed and playground equipment" placed there. There is still one basketball court "in plain view of the heavily traveled Jackson Street and is not likely to become a site for criminal activity. Total renovations t both parks cost about $30,000 " Rhonda Richardson, 10th Ward Alderman, said Ballard Basketball Park "still has a swing set and a slide for children, but...hopes the park's main attraction will be basketball...We re hoping to get some basketball leagues going there for juniors and adults."27

In June 1991, the PCC "awarded two $500 scholarships, renewable each year, to twin brothers LaWan and DeShawn Simpson of Sheppard Square.. The scholarships are named for the 'Yes We Can program that was established about four years ago by the Rev. Louis Coleman. To qualify, residents must live in Smoketown, have a least a 2.5 grade point average, be enrolled full-time in college and show financial need. Applicants must also submit a 500-word essay about 'What the Presbyterian Community Center Means to Me.'"28

In 1980 Smoketown had been called by some Smoketown-Jackson. Then in 1990, the name was changed to Jackson-Smoketown And now the city is hoping to change the name to just Jackson. "The pejorative of Smoketown has to do with the way it is, and the way it's been neglected", said Robert Douglas, chairman of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville and a former Smoketown resident of 18 years. "Smoketown will - and should - survive as a name, said Shirley Mae Beard...There are so many people who have lived with this name and they love Smoketown. It'll always be Smoketown to them..." "...If the name Smoketown eventually disappears, it won t be the first time a community designation has been lost. Other small Louisville neighborhoods, [local historian George] Yater said, have disappeared with time and urban development."29

In late 1991 or early 1992, "A 12-foot-high abstract sculpture...featuring two boxing gloves overlapping to form a heart in the middle, mounted atop a bronze circle including the names of some famous Louisville athletes, such as Muhammad Ali"30 was erected at the dead-end at Lampton Street. Some residents felt the $35,000 spent on the monument could have been "used to reinstate a much-needed adult-education program."31

I spoke with a black man at the corner of Lampton and Hancock about the monument. He said he liked it (the monument) but the kids keep stealing the lights that are supposed to light it up at night.

In 1991, "some residents are getting attention, calling for decent housing, services, jobs, and a safe place to live...Mayor Jerry Abramson said those needs will be addressed through a comprehensive plan the city is preparing to implement"... Jim Allen, director of Louisville's Department of Housing and Urban Development, said, "Smoketown is probably one of the most attractive neighborhoods in the city to redevelop in terms of its proximity to downtown"..."A recent $7 million renovation at Sheppard Square" is expected to begin soon...10th Ward Alderman Rhonda Richardson wants the city "to try harder to attract developers" and give incentives to local homeowners to improve their property But Mayor Abramson wants to redevelop Smoketown through a land-grab. "I've got to control the land. Then I'm in a position to make a significant offer to private home builders and developers to join me in creating a new neighborhood.'' Many residents are tired of all the empty promises and afraid of what the city may do that some "residents are now taking their own steps to attract developers..." "The Smoketown Priority Board an organization aimed at improving housing, attracting businesses, and promoting safety" has recently been formed. "'There s no way Smoketown should be like it is', said the Rev. Alex Shanklin of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church, which is preparing to move to the neighborhood as a sign of support". The church and education center is expected to cost $1.4 million.32

It seems ironic that the city hasn't helped the residents of Smoketown substantially in the past and now wants to help them by grabbing their neighborhood for redevelopment...probably displacing most of them. According to the 1990 census, 2,071 people live in Smoketown with 75% residing in the Sheppard Square housing project.


1. Michael Marriott, "Smoketown is a place of pleasure and pain", The Courier Journal, 7 May 1981, p. A11.

2. George H. Yater, Two Hundred Years at the Falls of the Ohio: A History of Louisville and Jefferson County, The Heritage Corporation of Louisville and Jefferson County, 1979, p. 109-110.

3. George H. Yater, p. 59.

4. George H. Yater, p. 109.

5. George H. Yater, p. 151.

6. Jean Porter, "City razes buildings, 'banks' land to begin Smoketown renovation", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/EastEnd, 21 June 1989, p. 1.

7. George H. Yater, p. 223.

8. George H. Yater, p. 225.

9. Cynthia Wilson, "Smoketown: a forgotten neighborhood", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/Mid-County, 25 September 1991, p. 6.

10. Michael Marriott, P. A11.

11. Frank Clifford, "Smoldering Smoketown...Fires of resentment burn deeply; policeman's killing was no surprise", The Louisville Times, 7 May 1971, p. 1.

12. Jean Porter, p. 1.

13. Linda McCauley, "Smoketown - corner infamous for drugs, loot", The Louisville Times/neighborhoods, 17/18 February 1982, p. 1-2.

14. Michael Marriott, p. A11

15. Jean Porter, "City may study ways to boost Smoketown", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/East County, 20 May 1987, p. 10.

16. Leah Lorber, "Program aims to give Smoketown teens jobs, children role models". The Courier Journal, 21 June 1987, p. B6.

17. Hunt Helm, "Car makes wrong turn into hail of bricks, bottles", The Courier Journal, 5 October 1988, p. C1.

18. Hunt Helm, "Bottle-throwing incident in Smoketown was second at dead-end in recent weeks", The Courier Journal, 8 October 1988, p. A12

19. Jean Porter, p. 1.

20. ---, "'Salute to Black Jockeys of the Kentucky Derby' reclaims abandoned history in what many say is an abandoned neighborhood", The Louisville Defender/Specia1 Supplement, 3 May 1990, p. 11-12.

21. Diane Heilenman, "Reclaiming History - Kentucky Derby museum is putting black back in the winner s circle with an exhibit that honors their role in horse racing", The Courier Journal 2 February 1992, p. I11.

22. ---, "'Salute to Black Jockeys...', p. 11-12.

23. Cynthia Wilson, "Jockeying for Recognition - Organizers say salute to black riders revives Smoketown residents' pride", The Courier Journal, 15 May 1991, p. 1-2.

24. Cynthia Wilson, "Ghetta Life Society hopes to furnish youth heros, alternatives", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/East End, 29 August 1990, p. 3.

25. PCC (Presbyterian Community Center) brochure.

26. Cynthia Wilson, "Plateful of help - Presbyterian Center cooks up program for hungry children", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/East End, 31 March 1991, p. 3.

27. Cynthia Wilson, "Smoketown residents welcome hoops change at center", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/East End, 10 April 1991, p. 7.

28. Cynthia Wilson, "Opening doors in Smoketown - 'Yes We Can' program offers college aid", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/East End, 12 June 1991, p. 1 and 5.

29. Grace Schneider, "City thinks new name would help give a fresh start to Smoketown", The Courier Journal, 2 September 1991, p. B2.

30. Cynthia Wilson, "Long-awaited work on Smoketown sculpture may start in spring", The Courier Journal/Neighborhoods/East End, 26 December 1990, p. 1 and 4.

31. Cynthia Wilson, "Smoketown: a forgotten neighborhood", p. 6.

32. Cynthia Wilson, "Smoketown: a forgotten neighborhood'', p. 6.

Kent School of Social Work - University of Louisville
SW­605 Social Work Practice II
D. Shackelford, Jr., Instructor
Spring 1992

The Analysis of an Existing Neighborhood (this paper) must include a description of at least one neighborhood or several similar neighborhoods within a greater community in which a need or compelling circumstance exists. There must be a detailed description of the environment and an account of the various agencies and organizations to be affected by the agency or organizer. Available resources must be identified with an assessment of persons, agencies and organizations whose functions may be employed to develop coalitions and networks. (The Appendix to this syllabus sets forth suggested guidelines to the preparation of the Analysis. The student need not feel restricted to them) This paper should be at least 10 pages in length and typed and it must not exceed 15 pages. Papers will be graded on the thoroughness of the analysis and clarity of expression. Any special documents considered crucial to the analysis may be attached to the paper as an appendix.

Students are to identify a neighborhood and analyze it according to the design attached and the analytical format discussed in the Neighborhood Organizer's Handbook by Warren & Warren. The purpose of the analysis is to develop a neighborhood organization strategy based upon the characteristics, resources, and issues of the neighborhood selected. Some questions that should be addressed are:

bulletWhat type of neighborhood are you dealing with?
bulletWhat linkages currently exist in the neighborhood, and what type need to be created?
bulletWhat type of information processes are most effective in this type of neighborhood and which will you use in your strategy?
bulletWhat will be the mayor role of the organizer?
bulletWhat issues are likely to attract people and how will they be used to build coalitions?
bulletWhat special resources could be used in your organizing strategy!

The Organizational Change Strategy (next paper) must be submitted on the date established. It will identify a significant problem or need that can be met by altering or improving an existing agency or procedure or by establishing another. There must be a clearly stated strategy to accomplish set forth goals and objectives: It must include a timetable and a criteria for successful intervention or change. Time permitting, each student will make an abbreviated oral presentation to the class of not more that 15 minutes. This paper must not be longer than 20 pages.

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