Carolyn Miller-Cooper, the head of the city’s human relations commission and a champion for social justice in Louisville, died Friday following a medical procedure. She was 51.
Her death was confirmed in a news release from the office of Mayor Greg Fischer.
Miller-Cooper had for years been involved in the fight for civil justice in Louisville and across Kentucky.
She served as executive director of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission since 2008. Prior to that, Miller-Cooper spent a decade as assistant director of the agency dedicated to eliminating bigotry, bias and hate in the city.
She recognized the difficult task her group faced.
In the agency’s most recent annual report, Miller-Cooper wrote that the goal “seems further away than ever now, but we cannot stop trying.”
“It is more important now that we try to unite against the forces of divisiveness and try to create conditions that foster peacefulness, safety and equality,” Miller-Cooper wrote in that report.
She helped produce a comprehensive action plan for fair housing in Louisville that detailed existing patterns of segregation. The report led to a public forum during which Miller-Cooper told residents they must take responsibility for their neighborhoods, according to a report from The Courier-Journal.
“It is all of our responsibility. Like it or not, we have to step up,” she said.
Miller-Cooper was inducted in to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2014, along with sculptor Ed Hamilton and Woodford Porter Sr., the first African American to serve on the Louisville Board of Education.
City Leaders Praise Miller-Cooper
In an emailed statement, Fischer said Miller-Cooper “was a passionate leader dedicated to the protection of all human rights and a tireless voice for equality, fairness and dignity” whose life will impact Louisville for decades.
“A grateful city mourns the passing of one of our great civil rights leaders,” he said.
Reginald Glass, chair of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Advocacy Board, said Miller-Cooper would be remembered for her integrity, reliance on facts and passion for social advocacy.
“An excellent listener and researcher with a strong passion for equality and equity for all,” is how Glass described Miller-Cooper.
(Glass is a sales representative for Kentucky Public Radio, of which Louisville Public Media is a member.)
The Rev. Clay Calloway, a former chair of the city’s human relations commission, said Miller-Cooper’s death is a heartbreaking loss for Louisville.
“She was very forward-thinking, compassionate, caring, insightful, extremely intelligent — and she was just a good person,” he said in a phone interview Friday.
Calloway said one of his fondest memories of Miller-Cooper came about a decade ago, when the human relations commission was working to organize a forum to discuss the tradition of “Derby cruising,” which he said was “a crisis back then.”
“She literally walked up and down Broadway delivering notices about this public forum, herself, personally,” he said.
Calloway said Miller-Cooper had “a calling” for social justice work.
“She was rare,” he said.
Metro Council president David Yates praised Miller-Cooper for her professionalism, passion and responsiveness on important issues related to equality and fair housing. He said it’s critical her legacy of hard work is continued.
Miller-Cooper regularly served on panel discussions and participated in public forums to examine issues related to race, housing and segregation. She was a board member of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition and the Fair Housing Coalition. She was also a ranking member of the Louisville Bar Association and a member of the Kentucky Bar Association.
She attended the University of Kentucky College of Law and the McGeorge School of Law.