The Louisville Metro Police Department remembered its first black female officer with a memorial headstone Tuesday.
Officer Bertha Whedbee joined LMPD in 1922, decades before the Civil Rights movement and only two years after women got the right to vote. She died in 1960, but her grave in Louisville Cemetery was unmarked. Now, thanks to a crowdfunding effort there’s a marker in place memorializing Whedbee and her husband, Ellis.
Through near-freezing cold and overcast skies, dozens of people gathered to commemorate Whedbee. Sniffles were drowned by bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace,” and worn grave markers surrounded Whedbee’s new headstone.
LMPD Chief Steve Conrad spoke at the ceremony. He called Whedbee a trailblazer.
“Generations of police officers have come and many have gone since Mrs. Whedbee’s time of serving this department,” Conrad said. “She is still a member of our police family and always will be.”
Former LMPD Sergeant Chuck Cooper first heard about Whedbee through a Facebook group for retired LMPD officers. When Cooper read more about Whedbee and her contributions to Louisville, he decided to gather money so he could buy her a grave marker.
“We said, ‘This is wrong.’ This woman was a trailblazer in our police department and she’s contributed greatly to our community. She deserves a fitting tribute,” Cooper said. “Police officers are a family, and we take care of each other.”
District 5 Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton said Whedbee was a former kindergarten teacher who joined the police after local officers mistreated her son. According to the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, Whedbee petitioned LMPD to be appointed to the role and was allowed to work only with other black people.
Bryant Hamilton said learning about these historical figures is important, and can also inform present-day experiences.
“It’s important to know our local history and pioneers — people who paved the way and whose shoulders we stand on,” she said. “It’s inspirational and just makes you fight a little harder, stand a little prouder.”
Cooper said Whedbee’s husband, Ellis Whedbee, was a doctor who co-founded Louisville’s Red Cross Hospital.
The headstone, which displays both Bertha and Ellis Whedbee’s names and stories, is at Louisville Cemetery near the intersection of Poplar Level Road and Eastern Parkway.