LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Will Louisville name a street in honor of an extortionist?


After two years of wrangling, Louisville's Metro Council is finally caving in to pressure from the Justice Resource Center to rename part of 34th Street, in memory of JRC's founder, the late Reverend Louis Coleman, who died in 2008 after a series of seizures. Council member Cheri Bryant Hamilton (D-5th District), who, along with Dr. Judy Green (D-1st District) co-sponsored the name-change proposal, indicated Wednesday that she will introduce a measure to keep the 34th Street name, and put up double signage that also would designate the street with the honorary name of Louis Coleman Jr. Blvd.

The plan is to change the name of 34th Street to Louis Coleman Jr. Blvd. from Parker Avenue on the north to Duvalle Drive on the south. In an interview with Sheldon Shafer of The Courier Journal, Hamilton said, "My preference would be for dual signage" along 34th, reflecting both the 34th and Coleman names. "I can understand people not wanting to go through having to change their address, and all that," she said. "There seems to be a growing consensus that people prefer honorary signage, rather than an official name change."

Councilwoman Hamilton gave no specifics regarding this "growing consensus" to spend taxpayer money to honor the late Rev. Coleman, but many Louisvillians will remember the proposed honoree as something less than deserving of such honor. Not to put too fine a point on it, Coleman is remembered by many as something of an extortionist, who made a substantial living by blackmailing local businesses and government agencies.

With cries of "racism," Coleman would threaten protest demonstrations unless businesses would agree to meet arbitrary racial hiring quotas and minority set-asides. Over time, many businessmen-and not a few public officials-simply paid Coleman to back off. And he usually did.

Back in 2002, WLKY-32's investigative reporter, John Boel televised an in-depth exposé of Louis Coleman and his shake-down methodology. He reported that many one-time targets of Coleman's protests were buying his silence by paying his groups money.

Boel filed open records requests with local governments, universities and school systems asking if they had any contracts with Coleman or the Justice Resource Center or the Black Chamber of Commerce. Boel discovered that-from 1998 through 2002-the Justice Resource Center and the Black Chamber of Commerce were paid nearly $500,000 under those contracts to "identify and inform minority contractors about construction projects."

Boel's investigation revealed that Coleman's organizations had received:

* $150,000 from United Parcel Service

* $40,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

* $12,500 from Jefferson County government

* $67,637 from Jefferson County Public Schools where Coleman was employed as a "home school coordinator"

* $12,000 from Lexington Urban County government

* $29,250 from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

* $6,250 from Kentucky State University

* $11,250 from the University of Louisville

* $20,000 from the University of Kentucky

* $81,470 from Kentucky state government

Coleman defended his organizations' finances, and told Boel: "That's not a lot of money. (It) may sound like it's a lot of money. That's not a lot of money to run an agency on. Quite frankly, that's like a pebble in the ocean when you look at contracts state government gave to contractors throughout the state of Kentucky."

Boel's Target 32 investigation also questioned the timing of many of the contracts. After Coleman protested minority hiring at U of L's new football stadium, U of L officials put him on the payroll for their next big project. After Coleman criticized UPS for not selecting a minority-owned firm to manage its mega-hub project, he landed a $15,000 contract from the company. But when Jefferson County's Metropolitan Sewer District told Coleman it would not pay his organization to help with minority contractor recruitment on a big construction project, Coleman's protests started two weeks later.

While WLKY-32 was running Boel's report, three dozen people began protesting in front of the station, carrying signs that read: "Justice is not intimidated by the media." "Anybody that thinks they can hush us up, they're sadly mistaken because we get our marching orders from on high," Coleman said at the time.

Well, now that Rev. Coleman is, himself, "on high," it may be tempting to canonize him and preserve his memory on street signs. Sure, we should all remember the many good deeds he performed-his street-preaching, and the like-but we should also remember that he was a race-mongering shakedown artist, par excellence. Not really the sort of guy we should name a street after.