LOUISVILLE, Ky. — On June 27, 1954, just after midnight, a dynamite bomb exploded under the bedroom floorboards of Rosemary Wade, age 2, in nearby Shively, Ky. Rosemary and her parents, Andrew and Charlotte Wade, were African American. They had moved into a house in an all-white neighborhood on Clyde Drive (then known as Rone Court) only six weeks before.
Fortunately, little Rosemary was away visiting relatives that night, and neither she nor her parents were injured. But the blast rendered the house inhabitable, and the Wade family subsequently moved to western Louisville.
The bombing was not the first act of malice the Wades had come up against. Immediately after they had purchased the house with the help of a white couple, Anne and Carl Braden, the Wades had been confronted by repeated acts of racism: a cross-burning, rock throwings, and the shooting of bullets and buckshot through their home’s windows.
After the bombing, the story of the gross violation of the Wades’ civil rights was basically ignored. The bombing took place during a time of rabid anti-Communist hysteria in the U.S., and instead of focusing on apprehending the perpetrators of this hate crime, the authorities shifted the focus instead to the alleged “Communism” of the Bradens.
When a grand jury was convened in September 1954 to investigate the incident, a sensationalized sedition trial ensued, in which the bombing was alleged to have been part of a convoluted conspiracy by the Bradens and several others to overthrow the government. The late Carl Braden was convicted on state sedition charges and served seven months of a 15-year sentence before his conviction was overturned.
The 50th anniversary of the house bombing was recently observed by the dedication of a commemorative plaque on Clyde Drive. Over 100 people attended, including 25 neighbors.
While acknowledging in her welcoming remarks that “Telling history can’t make justice happen,” University of Louisville professor Catherine Fosl, who conceived the idea of the marker, suggested that reporting the past accurately can help lead to a more just future.
Saying that the bombing incident should be recalled as the Wades’ story more than the Bradens’, she went on to note that the Wades were not present at the dedication, having made a conscious decision to try to put the incident behind them. The family currently lives in the Chickasaw neighborhood in a house they bought in 1958.
But the Wades, while respectfully left alone, are now not likely to be forgotten. Mary Woolridge, councilwoman for the district in which the marker is, read a Metro Council resolution that had been passed the evening before the dedication, whose purpose is to recognize and remember the Wades, endorse the marker, and encourage people to reflect on this incident and the civil rights struggle in general.
Jim Jenkins, current mayor of Shively, commented on the racial diversity of his city today (it is now the most integrated community in the metropolitan area) and said that people who stand up for rights are among the most important people of all.
Anne Braden said that despite the hoopla that surrounded the trial of her and her husband, “The courageous people were the Wades.” She said that it had been an “open secret” who had placed and detonated the bomb — she and her husband knew, and so did many others — but nobody was ever prosecuted. She noted the continuing persistence of racism in Louisville today.
In his dedication remarks, Dr. J. Blaine Hudson, acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Louisville, said that the only times movements for African American rights have been successful in the U.S. have been when both of two elements have been present: African Americans standing up to demand their rights; and significant numbers of whites joining them in the struggle. He said: “We have to do more than just stand for justice. We have to work for justice.”
The marker was presented by Clest Lanier, president of the African American Heritage Foundation, and Colleen Crum of Clyde Drive Neighbors. Crum, who unveiled the plaque, said she would be proud to pass the memorial every morning on her way to work and reflect, however briefly, on how some things have changed for the better.
The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org. An earlier version of this article appeared in FORsooth, the newspaper of the Louisville chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.