West Walnut: A Vibrant City Street
Landmarks alone do not create a lively urban scene. Instead, the spaces and relationships between buildings are of great importance, combining to create a streetscape—an urban experience.
Once regarded as the soul of Louisville’s Black community, Walnut Street—stretching from 6th to 13th Street—was a lively neighborhood with a thriving business sector. During its heyday, from the 1920s to the 1960s, over 150 Black-owned businesses packed the street, mingling with many Jewish-owned establishments. Numerous shops, restaurants, and bars served diverse clientele. Growing up in the area, artist and author Ken Clay remembers “a hub of activity…music would be playing—something going on.” From everyday needs to top notch entertainment, the street “had it all…it was the place to be.” In fact, Old Walnut Street is often compared to Memphis’ Beale Street or Harlem’s 125th Street.
Although Walnut Street was the only option for African Americans during segregation, most remember it fondly. Goldie Winstead Beckett, former owner of the A. B. Ridley funeral home, described the street as a “haven,” recalling the “happiest days in my life.” Louis Cook, a former businessman, summed it up: “You had a whole way of life on that street, a frame of mind. You just can’t take up all of that and a tradition and just move it to another street corner.”
You’ll see yourself and a thousand others
Go straight to Walnut Street;
When you come to Louisville
Shake dust from prancing feet
You’ll hear yourself and a thousand others
Blurt out that life is lucky
When you tickle its wing on the working side
In this gem of old Kentucky…
-Joseph Cotter, Sr.