This year, many in Louisville have been marking the anniversary of a touchstone event of the Civil Rights era.
It started 60 years ago when white activists, led by Carl and Anne Braden purchased a home on behalf of a young black family.
That act touched off weeks of racial violence and led to serious criminal charges against the activists.
Today, the neighborhood in Shively seems a most unlikely place for cross-burnings, gunfire and a dynamite attack, but that’s exactly what happened along the street over the course of several weeks in 1954.
The hostility began when an African-American family—Andrew Wade, his pregnant wife, Charlotte and their 2-year-old daughter Rosemary—moved into their new home at 4010 Rone Court.
Andrew Wade was an electrician who wanted to move his family to the suburbs but was turned down by a succession of white real estate agents, who refused to cross the illegal but still highly observed line of segregation.
In an interview from the 1980s featured in the documentary “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot,” Wade recalls a piece of advice he received from agent.
“He said ‘Wade, let’s be realistic—if you see a house, you like the house, regardless of where it is, get a white person if necessary if it’s in a white neighborhood to buy the house for you and transfer it to you. It’s that simple.'”
So, that’s what he did. Wade enlisted the help of acquaintances Carl and Anne Braden, left-wing activists who had been vocal in their opposition to Louisville’s housing segregation laws.
The transaction was completed but trouble began as soon as the Wades moved in.
“That night, they heard gunshots, and somebody was firing at the house, and Andrew says he told his wife to get down, but it didn’t hit anybody. And they looked out and there was a cross burning in the field next to them,” Anne Braden recalled in the documentary.
There would more trouble in the days to come; a stone bearing a racial epithet hurled into a window, the local dairy refused to deliver milk; the Wades’ newspaper subscription canceled because the carrier wouldn’t deliver it.
Police were stationed nearby for protection, but the Wades and their white allies didn’t trust them, so they formed a committee whose members would take turns staying in the house.
One of the guards was Lewis Lubka.
“I was in the back kitchen with a gun. And when we were shot at we shot back. I was working days and helping guard the house at nights,” said Lubka, the last surviving activist who’s now 88 and lives in Fargo, North Dakota.
Several weeks went by and tensions seemed to ease a bit. But just after midnight on June 27, 1954:
“We was coming in and a bomb went off under the house,” Lubka said.
The home was blown up with dynamite. The explosives were placed under Rosemary’s room. No one was in the house at the time.
Cate Fosl is a biographer of Anne Braden and heads the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research at the University of Louisville. She said it was no secret who was responsible for this and other attacks, but:
“No indictments were returned against any of the neighbors, even though they had admitted to burning a cross and being hostile to the idea. But all of the indictments were against the whites who supported the Wades in this quest for a house,” Fosl said.
Anne and Carl Braden and the five other whites were charged with sedition, accused of hatching a Communist plot to buy the home, blow it up, touch off a race war and overthrow the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Today, it sounds outrageous. But in aninterview from the collections of the Kentucky Historical Society, Anne Braden provided some context: this happened at the confluence of McCarthyism and the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that outlawed school segregation.
“And I always felt that the Wades and us became lightning rods. They couldn’t get at the Supreme Court but that could get to us,” Anne Braden said.
Carl Braden was convicted of sedition and spent eight months in prison.
The following year a ruling came down from the U.S. Supreme Court in a Pennsylvania case that said, in essence, sedition is a federal crime, not a state offense.
Carl Braden’s state conviction was later reversed and the charges against the other defendants were dropped.
Branded as Communist troublemakers, all the defendants had trouble finding work in the following years. Carl Braden died in 1975. Anne Braden continued her work opposing housing and school segregation.
The Wade family attempted to repair their home, but amid continuing hostility, sold the house at a loss and moved back into west Louisville, where Charlotte Wade still lives. She no longer speaks publicly about the case. Andrew Wade died in 2005.
Anne Braden, who died in 2006 at the age of 81, told the Kentucky Historical Society she had no regrets about helping the Wades buy their dream home.
“It would have been unthinkable for us to say no, because this is something we believed in. You live by what you believe in or you don’t, that’s all.”
Fosl said the Bradens and the Wades would be proud of how the once-troubled Shively neighborhood has changed.
“It is one of the most integrated, multi-racial, multi-cultural neighborhoods in Louisville today,” Fosl said.
It’s also the home of 31-year-old postal worker Steve Ebbs, his wife, and two young daughters.
On a October morning, Ebbs is standing next to a historical marker erected near the Wade home site a few years ago.
He’s the great-nephew of Andrew and Charlotte Wade, and lives down the street from 4010 Rone Court, now called Clyde Drive.
Ebbs has been the family’s spokesman during the anniversary commemorations.
“It’s something that I really take pride in,” Ebbs said.
“I’ve made sure that my children understand the significance of the fact that there’s a monument here and it is our blood relatives that went through what they did to receive something like this. So I make sure that I definitely give it the respect that it’s due.”
(Historic photos courtesy of The Courier-Journal. More photos can be seen here.)
(Historic photos courtesy of The Courier-Journal. More photos can be seen here.)
Chronology of Wade-Braden Case, Compiled by the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research at the University of Louisville:
- 1944: GI bill makes home ownership far more widely available to American working-class families
- 1947: Levittown, N.Y., subdivision begins, symbolizing start of American families’ mass moves to suburbs in post-WWII era; Levittown maintains whites-only policies until 1960s
- 1948: meets Carl and Anne Braden through local events supporting Iowan Henry Wallace’s presidential challenge to Truman on Progressive Party ticket
- May 1950: 400 Louisville whites join Shawnee Homeowners’ Association to prevent black residency in their neighborhood
- Nov. 1953: Filipino-American WWII (WAC) veteran Nina Hardman moves with her children into all-white Louisville neighborhood, is greeted with protest petition but later welcomed
- Feb.-March 1954: Anne Braden helps organize public hearing in support of local school desegregation in anticipation of Supreme Court ruling against segregated schools
- March 1954: WWII veteran and electrician Andrew E. Wade IV asks whites Carl and Anne Braden to help him purchase a home for his family after realtors repeatedly refuse to sell to him because he is African American; his father, Andrew Wade III, is plaintiff in lawsuit to desegregate Louisville public pools
- May 10, 1954: Bradens close on house Wades selected on Rone Court in Shively, and deliver keys to Wades
- May 12-14, 1954: Wade admits to builder and to white neighbors that Bradens have deeded him the house on Rone Court, and he is moving in; white mob confronts Bradens at their own home demanding they prevent this move
- May 15, 1954: Cross is burned on lot adjacent to Wades’ new home as they spends their first night there
- May 16, 1954: In early morning hours, shots are fired into house, and a stone bearing a racial epithet is hurled into front window; local press covers events extensively
- May 17, 1954: At noon, US Supreme Court issues decision on Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas, with justices 5-4 condemning segregated schools as discriminatory
- May 18, 1954: Courier-Journal endorses Brown decision and condemns violence against Wades, but criticizes Bradens’ actions and suggests Wades’ move will lower neighborhood property values. As threats continue, Jefferson County police post 24-hour armed guard in front of Wade home. All the officers are white, and they set up in yard of admittedly hostile white neighbors
- May 22, 1954: Wades and Bradens organize a Wade Defense Committee to advocate for the family’s rights to their home, and to insure someone is there with Charlotte and 2-year- old Rosemary Wade while Andrew is at work
- May 18-31, 1954: Threats continue against both families; Wades secure new insurance after original is canceled, and mortgage is revoked due to transfer. Shively Newsweek, a local weekly paper, editorializes against residential desegregation
- June 3, 1954: Millard Grimes publishes letter in Shively Newsweek suggesting Wade purchase was communist conspiracy and announces formation of American White Brotherhood
- June 17, 1954: Shively Newsweek publisher John Hitt proposes in editorial that shots into Wade home are “self-inflicted”
- June 21, 1954: Wades secure new loan through black-owned mortgage company
- June 26, 1954: Local dairy refuses to deliver milk to Wades on basis of their race
- June 27, 1954: Courier-Journal notifies Wades of subscription cancellation because paperboy refuses to deliver to them
- June 27, 1954: Despite police guard nearby, dynamite explodes under Wade home after midnight, injuring no one but destroying rear half of house
- July 1-4, 1954: City police warn Bradens that their house may be in line for second act of violence and post 24-hr guard for Fourth of July weekend. Nothing happens and guard is removed.
- July 4, 1954: National TV profiles year-long rampant violence to maintain all-white neighborhood in Trumbull Park neighborhood of Chicago
- July 1954: Though Wades have moved back to town, Andrew returns to Rone Court house nightly to keep watch; county police refuse request for court of inquiry into violence
- July 22, 1954: County police arrest Wade and charge him with breach of peace after he refuses to list all friends who will accompany him onto his property
- Aug. 2, 1954: Charlotte Wade gives birth to second daughter, Andrea Maria Wade
- Sept. 1954: Commonwealth’s Attorney A. Scott Hamilton convenes grand jury to investigate violence on Rone Court
- Sept. 15, 1954: On her son’s third birthday, Anne Braden testifies before grand jury and refuses to answer questions about her associations with Communist Party members; she consults Courier-Journal publisher, Mark Ethridge, who expresses concern that hearings are becoming “red”-hunting expedition
- Sept. 16, 1954: Courier-Journal defies precedent of grand jury secrecy and covers hearings in depth
- Sept. 17, 1954: Courier-Journal editorial expresses “deepest disapproval” of Hamilton’s theory of communist conspiracy, which it pronounces “baseless,” also calls Bradens “politically misguided”
- Sept. 17-22, 1954: All-white grand jury inspects damaged house, but continues to shift investigation to threat of communism and fails to indict neighbors who admit to burning cross on Rone Court. Hamilton threatens contempt citations if questions about Communism are not answered; Shively Newsweek continues to attribute purchase and dynamiting to communist crusade
- Sept. 23, 1954: Grand jury recalls Vernon Bown, white Wade Defense Committee member who had stayed at Wade home weekdays. When he refuses to detail his political beliefs, Hamilton issues contempt citation and raids his apartment shared with former CP member I.O. Ford, confiscating Marxist books and pamphlets amid heightened publicity. Bradens, fearing a similar fate, hire attorney Robert Zollinger.
- Sept. 29, 1954: Hamilton leads raids on homes of three more white leftists who supported Wades–Louise Gilbert, LaRue Spiker, and Lew Lubka–in search of subversive materials. He arrests all of them and charges them with contempt
- Oct. 1, 1954: Carl and Anne testify before grand jury again on its final day; later in day, Bradens, Bown, Spiker, Gilbert, and Ford–all whites–are arrested and charged with unspecified charge called “sedition.” Vernon Bown is charged with actual dynamiting of house in spite of sworn statements placing him out of state on June 27.
- Oct. 5-7, 1954: Bradens’ home is raided twice and 800 books are seized as prosecution’s evidence
- Oct. 8, 1954: Anne’s parents, Gambrell & Anita McCarty, post her $10,000 bond and take her two children to Anniston, AL, for coming ten months
- Oct. 22, 1954: Carl’s mother and friends bail him out of jail
- Nov. 4, 1954: While in Alabama visiting their children, Bradens learn they, along with Bown, Ford, and Lew Lubka, are indicted for second count of sedition, now specified as “conspiracy to achieve a political end–communism”
- Nov. 29, 1954: Carl’s trial begins with all-white jury of 11 men, one woman, in packed courtroom with daily media coverage
- Nov. 30, 1954: Prosecution’s opening statement attributes purchase to communist plot to take land from whites, suggests crime was not a discrete action but publications, ideas, and membership in “subversive organizations”
- Dec. 1-7, 1954: Nine FBI ex-Communist witnesses, black and white, from around nation verify pattern of Communists coaching blacks to take land from whites but admit having no knowledge of Wade or any of defendants; many in audience cheer and applaud testimony
- Dec. 2, 1954: Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) is censured by US Senate for behavior “contrary to senatorial traditions” after his zealous investigation of alleged communism inside US Army under leadership of his own party
- Dec. 7, 1954: Prosecution rests, having shown no relationship between Carl and any plot
- Dec. 9, 1954: Carl Braden testifies he is not a member of the Communist Party and opposes violence in any form
- Dec. 11, 1954: During Saturday session, defense rests. After lunch, prosecution announces surprise witness: Alberta Ahearn, a longtime friend of Bradens, who testifies she is FBI secret agent and was recruited into Communist Party by Carl and Anne. No link to Wade purchase is mentioned. Defense attempts to summon her FBI records to verify are rejected on grounds of “national security.”
- Dec. 13, 1954: Jury convicts Carl Braden
- Dec. 14, 1954: Carl Braden sentenced to 15 years in prison and $5000 fine. Courier-Journal fires him from his job as copy editor
- Jan. 21, 1955: Carl transferred from county jail to LaGrange Reformatory and placed in solitary confinement for 42 days; Anne travels to raise his $40,000 bail during appeal and makes contacts with others who had faced anticommunist prosecutions across U.S.
- Feb.7, 1955: Trial for Anne Braden is postponed, first to Feb. 28, then to March, then April, then indefinitely, with no other defendants’ trials scheduled
- March 1955: Andrew Wade’s attempt to prosecute Buster Robe, Stanley Wilt, and Lawrence Rinehardt for May 1954 cross-burning is thrown out because grand jury had originally failed to indict
- July 12, 1955: Carl posts bond and is released
- Nov. 4, 1955: Braden attorneys file amicus brief for Pennsylvania v. Nelson case facing Supreme Court testing legitimacy of state sedition laws
- Dec. 1, 1955: Rosa Parks desegregates Montgomery, Alabama, bus, launching 13-month bus boycott and new mass nonviolent movement against segregation
- March 12, 1956: “Southern Manifesto” deploring school desegregation and Brown decision is entered into Congressional Record, endorsed almost unanimously by southern senators and Congressional representatives April 2, 1956: U.S. Supreme Court invalidates state sedition laws in Nelson case
- June 22, 1956: Carl’s sedition conviction is reversed by Kentucky Court of Appeals
- July 1956: Courier-Journal refuses to reinstate Carl on basis he lacks objectivity; none of sedition defendants can find jobs
- Aug. 1956: Hamilton reconvenes grand jury to investigate communism in Louisville
- Sept. 1956: Louisville schools desegregate without violence, unlike school districts farther south and in rural Kentucky: Kentucky White Citizens Council forms in protest
- Nov. 1956: Sedition charges against Anne and rest of defendants dropped, but Hamilton announces plans to prosecute Bown for bombing; a few days later, Hamilton recommends, and judge agrees, dismissal of remaining charges
- Summer 1957: Wades gain clear title to their house and begin its repairs
- Sept. 1957: Unable to find employment in Louisville, Bradens become regional field organizers for New Orleans-based Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), tasked with recruiting whites to support racial desegregation
- Nov. 1957: Wades sell house at auction amid continuing hostility and suffer financial losses from it; move to West End
- Oct. 20, 1967: After Bradens are indicted for sedition again in Pikeville for opposing strip mining, Kentucky sedition law is at last declared unconstitutional by a federal panel in Lexington