Louisville’s Suzy Post: At the Gates of Freedom

Not long ago, we marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, that seminal moment when the eyes of the nation focused on 250,000 demonstrators in Washington, D.C., and where Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his immortal “I Have a Dream” speech. It was the moment when civil rights in America moved to center stage, not to budge again until major changes occurred in the law, and in time, in the way we live in America.

In the next week, two events in Louisville will pay honor to titans of the civil rights era. One of them, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, will speak to the University of Louisville Kentucky Author Forum on Tuesday evening at the Bomhard Theater. Lewis, who is one of the few surviving speakers from the March on Washington, became a beloved and heroic figure when he was brutally beaten during the Selma march in March 1965. Since 1987, he has been represented Atlanta in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he is a voice for justice and fairness for all.

While John Lewis was marching in Alabama and elsewhere, Louisvillian Suzanne Kling Post was a daring leader in efforts to achieve the same ends. On Thursday evening, a gala evening in her honor will benefit the Louisville Central Community Centers, an organization in West Louisville that she has tirelessly promoted for many years. With U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth as its hosts, and with the tireless efforts of Jane and Bert Emke, David Hawpe, Jerry and Madeline Abramson, Dan Crutcher, and Shelly Zegart of Louisville, along with a host of others who care deeply about Suzy, this evening is “sold out,” and deservedly so.

The daughter of Jewish immigrants who came to Louisville from Germany, Suzy, born in 1933, grew up here and then went on to Indiana University, where she joined the student branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She earned a master’s degree in English literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and returned to Kentucky.

I’ve always suspected that her time in Berkeley, which became synonymous with political liberalism from about 1958 onward, had a big effect on Suzy. But I also think her personality made it impossible for her to be anything but a radical, a term that she is proud of. She should be. Many people have delicately sought to make change in Louisville, and in the nation, but very few have truly achieved the sort of lasting improvement that Suzy Post has.

I first met Suzy more than forty years ago when, as a young reporter, I was sent to a meeting of the old board of education, an event that was held in the Crystal Ballroom of the Brown Hotel, which had fallen on hard times and was purchased by the old Louisville school system for a headquarters. I shudder to remember that they served “satellite lunches” in the glorious English Grille. Anyway, it was during the lawsuit that led, in 1975, to merger of the school systems and to the integration plan that was labeled “forced busing” by its opponents. Suzy was sitting in the audience, along with Lyman T. Johnson, the legendary head of the NAACP here, the first black man admitted to the University of Kentucky, and someone Suzy and I both came to admire. She counts him among her mentors, and how lucky she is that he was.

Anyway, Suzy was intense. Really intense. She was puffing away at cigarettes, as most intense people did back in those days, and she offered a running commentary of the board and its members. I don’t remember much more; I had to go back to the newsroom and write it all up and I did my best. Over the years, Suzy and I would be in contact more often, especially after I moved to the editorial page. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that Suzy was among those who were unofficial members of The Courier-Journal editorial board over the years. Others included Ed Prichard, Bob Bell, Boyce Martin, Minx Auerbach, Mary Helen Byck, Louis Coleman, David Baker, Sally Brown and Christy Brown. But when Suzy called, it was going to be fun. She was full of stories, not just lectures. And she always knew what was right. Right in the correct term, not in the ideological term.

Suzy was blessed to be born into the wonderful Kling family. Her Uncle Arthur was partner in business with her dad Morris, and they ran the Kling Company, stationers at Sixth and Main that ultimately became Dimeco, a discount titan. Arthur was one of the city’s wise men when I was a youngster. If he came to a public hearing or to an event, everyone paid homage. He was the founder of the Jewish Family and Vocational Services, he was the first white member of the Louisville chapter of the Urban League, he was a leader in advocacy for senior citizens, and founded the Kentucky Commission on Aging. As a footnote, his son, David Kling, was best friends with my best friend, Ted Fleischaker’s, parents, Arthur and Rosa Lee Fleischaker. So I have known about their work for a long, long time.

Suzy’s father Morris gave her a subscription to The Nation magazine (she says, “a more boring publication than currently existed. The Daily Worker would have been a barrel of laughs compared to The Nation, although I mostly agree with its politics.” She remembers that her Daddy supported everything she ever did (I understand that) and when she took the job as head of the KCLU (a precursor to the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky) in 1982, when it was dead in the water, “I took him to lunch at Cunningham’s and said, Dad, I need $10,000 from you. You got me into this and the KCLU has been defunct for years.” Her father said, “I have to talk to my tax guy; I will let you know in a day or two.”

The answer came back. Two days later he told Suzy, “He could send me $500 a month. Until he died, he did, and by that time I was with the Metropolitan Housing Coalition.” Well, three cheers for Morris Kling, and all he did for our city. And four cheers for being the father of Suzy Post.

Runyon is a longtime Louisville journalist and former editorial page editor for The Courier-Journal.  He’ll discuss this commentary at 1:30 p.m. today with WFPL’s Jonathan Bastian on Here & Now.

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