This is the first in a series of profiles marking the 60th anniversary of the ACLU of Kentucky's founding. From November 2014 through December 2015 we will highlight the story of one member, client, case, board or staff member that has been an integral part of our organization's rich history.
Anne & Carl Braden
"As long as I have life and strength, I hope to be on the barricades of that struggle [for justice]. I hope and trust the ACLU will be there too.” - Anne Braden, 1990
A history of the struggle for civil rights in Kentucky would not be complete without Anne and Carl Braden. In 1954, before a Kentucky branch of the ACLU existed, the couple (who had already taken action as union and desegregation activists) decided to help the Wades, an African American family, buy a house in an otherwise all-white neighborhood in the Shively neighborhood of Louisville.. The Wades had reached out to the Bradens to purchase the home on their behalf after several real estate deals had fallen through when the Wades’ race was discovered. The Wades moved into their new home, only to face violence and exclusion from their white neighbors–including a burning cross and eventually a bombing.
After the bombing, the Bradens, along with a small group of activists, were charged with sedition and taken to court at a time when officials were caught up with McCarthyism and anti-Communist hysteria. Carl spent months in jail on a sedition conviction before being released on a bond. The Bradens’ sedition charges epitomize the way that McCarthyism was used to restrict Kentuckians’ free speech rights in the 1950s–and why the ACLU-KY was founded in 1955.
The Bradens were not deterred from their passion for activism: they continued to speak out, especially against racism. The couple were again charged with sedition in 1967 as a result of their opposition to strip mining.
But, as Anne wrote, “these were different times.” She described how the court atmosphere had changed in the 13 years since 1954: “When the sheriff brought us to Lexington from the Pike County jail for the hearing, we walked into a courtroom filled not with our enemies but our friends–activists from the University of Kentucky student movement. When the prosecutor asked me, ‘Are you or have you ever been...,’ the courtroom burst into laughter. . . . I then knew that the 1950s were finally over.”
After Carl died in 1975, Anne Braden continued her civil rights and anti-racism activism, working off and on with, and sometime against, the ACLU-KY for decades until her death in 2006. Anne was the first recipient of the national ACLU's Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty, which is perhaps second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a high honor in the country for people dedicated to defending the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Several organizations continue working in the legacy of Anne and Carl Braden, including the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research and the Carl Braden Memorial Center.