The celebration of the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., is a time when Americans should remember not just King’s work, but that of many other civil rights activists whose efforts King built upon. One important milestone won by civil rights activists decades before King came to the world’s attention is the Supreme Court’s decision in Buchanan v. Warley. This little-remembered decision, made 100 years ago last November, dealt a blow to Jim Crow at a time when segregation was flourishing in the South.
In 1914, Louisville, Ky. implemented an ordinance prohibiting African-Americans from occupying houses on majority-white blocks and whites from occupying houses on majority-black blocks. The ordinance was part of a regional trend. In 1910, Baltimore became the first to enact such an ordinance, followed by about a dozen other cities across the South over the next few years.
The lengthy title of Louisville’s ordinance contained its rationale: “An ordinance to prevent conflict and ill-feeling between the white and colored races in the city of Louisville, and to preserve the public peace and promote the general welfare, by making reasonable provisions requiring, as far as practicable, the use of separate blocks, for residences, places of abode, and places of assembly by white and colored people respectively.”