Londrigan earns Kentucky Alliance's Braden Award

By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

“Civil rights are workers’ rights,” Bill Londrigan told the crowd at the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression's 21st annual Unity Dinner in Louisville.

“You can’t have one without the other. That has been a guiding principle for me and the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.”

President of the state’s largest labor organization since 1999, Londrigan earned the 44-year-old Falls City-based civil rights organization's highest honor, the Carl and Anne Braden Lifetime Achievement Award.

Husband and wife, the Bradens, and other Bluegrass State activists, founded the Kentucky Alliance in 1974.  The group’s “main mission is to fight against racism and injustices,” explained the union-printed dinner program.

Carl and Anne Braden were journalists who championed civil rights and unions for many years. In 1954, they were charged with sedition for buying a house in the all-white Shively section of Louisville and selling it to Andrew and Charlotte Wade, an African American couple. 

Angry whites burned a cross in front of the house, shot out the windows and denounced the Bradens as communists. One night while the Wades were away, the house was dynamited, but the bombers were never caught.

"Instead of going after the racist bombers, the state went after Anne and Carl, saying they were part of a communist plot to overthrow the government of Kentucky," said Alliance board member Ira Grupper, adding, "this was the height of McCarthyism and the Cold War."  

Carl was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served eight months but was released after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state sedition laws. Charges against both Bradens ultimately were dropped.

Carl and Anne Braden are enshrined in the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Londrigan said he accepted the Braden award "in memory and honor" of the couple and of other "civil rights and union warriors that are residing with our heavenly Father whom I had the privilege and honor of working with for the cause of civil rights and workers' rights and who inspired and guided and encouraged me.

"I have tried to emulate their spirit and resolve."

The Bradens were allies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who, according to Londrigan, “recognized the interdependence of civil and workers’ rights.”

He quoted King: “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival, but a tolerable life.”  

Londrigan said civil rights and workers’ rights are under assault “in our commonwealth and country, and I know that those here this evening will not relent in our quest for living wages, health care for all, criminal justice reform, voting rights, retirement security, quality education, tax reform, racial and gender equality and ending homelessness, violence and poverty."

He added, “Dr. King said ‘this is no time for apathy and complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.’ The fight goes on; our struggle will never end.”

Before becoming state AFL-CIO president, Londrigan was secretary-treasurer-business manager of the Greater Louisville Building and Construction Trades Council and a delegate to the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council. He is a member of Louisville Elevator Constructors Local 20.

Londrigan, who lives near Frankfort, was introduced by State AFL-CIO Recording Secretary Edna Ford and Cylister Williams, president of the Louisville branch of the A. Philip Randolph Institute.  Williams called Londrigan, “my brother, your friend and one of God’s children.”

"I have known Bill Londrigan since we both were delegates to the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council in the early 1990s," said Grupper, a veteran civil rights and labor activist.

"He is very dedicated to rebuilding the labor movement in Kentucky and is diligent in trying to cohere our forces in Kentucky. What Bill is doing in Kentucky is a microcosm of the work that needs to be done nationally toward returning the labor movement to a position of strength."  

In addition to Londrigan, Dr. Kevin Cosby, president of Louisville’s Simmons College of Kentucky, earned a Braden Award.

Others received honors at the banquet held Friday night at the Hotel Louisville downtown. 
They included Shively mayor-elect Beverly Chester-Burton, the first African American to hold the post. 

The keynote speaker was John J. Johnson, Kentucky Human Rights Commission executive director.

The Alliance has been a voice for the voiceless,” he said. “Over the years, you have reached out to the underserved, the downtrodden, the dispossessed, the left out, locked out men, women and children in this city and state, and we thank you.”

Johnson told the crowd he wished he “could say ‘job well done, and now rest.’”

But he said he couldn't because President Donald Trump’s “cruel and crude actions and negative statements have brought racial hatred out of the shadows, out of the woodwork, from under the carpet.

“We always knew it lay just below the surface. Racist hate rhetoric has become the new normal. The president is creating an atmosphere that allows that to happen."

Trump, according to Johnson, keeps talking “about going back to a previous time in American history with his ‘Make America Great Again’ rhetoric but I’m not sure that America was really all that great.”

Johnson meant Jim Crow America when segregation and race discrimination were the law in the South and in border states like Kentucky and the social order almost everywhere else.

“We as a people are still struggling with the lingering effects of the past periods of American history that some want to bring us back to.”

He cited voter suppression laws and gerrymandering designed to marginalize and weaken the power of minorities at the ballot box. 

Johnson said that while African Americans comprise 8.3 percent of Kentucky’s population, 31 percent of men and women behind bars are black.

He said that 72 percent of white Kentucky families own their homes, but only 38 percent of black Kentuckians do.

The state poverty rate is 17 percent for whites and 30 percent for African Americans; more than 47 percent of black children live in poverty, according to Johnson.

“Rather than seeking to bridge the gap on justice and equality with racial harmony and understanding, [Trump's]...slogan intensifies the problems, resulting in a rise in discriminatory policies that threaten the civil rights advancements won by generations of civil rights advocates” such as the Bradens, he said.   

 “Today, we are in fact in a fight for America’s character and its soul,” Johnson added.

More information about the Kentucky Alliance is available by telephoning 502-778-8130. The address is 3208 W. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40211.