Dr. Beatrice Brown is one of those rare individuals able to shape good ideas and good intentions into problem-solving organizations. Combined with a servant’s heart, she has been, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “a drum major” for helping the disadvantaged.
Brown credits her parents for giving her a legacy of community service while growing up in the Parkland neighborhood. A child prodigy on the piano, by the age of 9 she was playing organ in Sunday services at Elim Baptist Church. Brown majored in music and education at the University of Louisville and before she left had organized the Black Diamond Choir.
Career goals took her to New York City, where her warmth toward others met the harsh realities of urban life. For the next 25 years Brown would combine teaching psychology at City College with consulting, counseling and mentoring through three organizations she had established.
“Everything I have done has been about filling in gaps where I saw an unmet need,” says Brown.
After returning home in 2002, Brown started a mission group focused on children. She then saw the need to document the under-appreciated history of Louisville’s African-American community, and told the story through photographs and notations in her book “Louisville’s Historic Black Neighborhoods.”
The book reads like a family photo album of times and places remembered and forgotten. City neighborhoods covered in the book include Smoketown, Old Louisville and California; county neighborhoods include Berrytown, Griffytown and Newburg. The chapters pass from place to place and illustrate how, despite the long decades of discrimination and exclusion, the African-American community built churches, schools, libraries, hospitals and businesses, all in the spirit of self-reliance.
By 1900, the strength of Louisville’s black community could be seen in a higher percentage of home ownership than any other city in the nation. With its diverse population and a bustling commercial district, the Russell neighborhood, just west of downtown, was like a “little New York” in the decades before midcentury.
Leaders such as Thomas F. Blue, the foremost African-American librarian in the South, and architect Samuel Plato, who constructed Camp Taylor and designed some 40 federal post offices, get their due alongside photos of blacks from all walks of life. A separate chapter chronicles famous black jockeys, who dominated racing at Churchill Downs until the beginning of the last century.
Dr. Brown compiled the book “as a legacy for our children,” and, indeed, the photos of the children are especially moving. Children in libraries and schools look out at us with a calm dignity and a strength of character that is at once trusting and eager for the future.
But it is the elderly who have been especially grateful for the book, which for the first time explains the roots and tells the story of the neighborhoods they remember from their youth. “I have been hugged and cried over at many book signings,” Brown says. Surely, for a person who continues to fill unmet needs in both consulting work and missionary projects, there are few compliments more gratifying.