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The Louisville Leader

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 1973_651-UA

The Louisville Leader was established in 1917 by I. Willis Cole. Original copies of the newspaper were first housed in the Cole Publishing Company building where they were badly damaged by a fire in 1954. Eventually, the family gave the badly deteriorated bulk of the collection to Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky, who loaned them to the University of Louisville in 1978 for microfilming. The series was supplemented by personal copies graciously donated by the editor's widow, Mrs. Rosa L. Cole of Louisville. Financing for the microfilm was generously provided by members and friends of the I. Willis Cole family, WLOU Radio, Mammoth Life and Accident Insurance Company, the University of Louisville, and Kentucky State University. In 2011, the University Archives and Records Center had the microfilm scanned, and the images are now available online via Digital Collections. (See "External Documents," below, for a link to the digital version.)


  • 1917-1950



7 reels of microfilm

.375 linear feet (1 flat box)

Biographical / Historical

The Louisville Leader was started by I. Willis Cole in 1917 with just $50.00. According to the Louisville Defender, with that $50.00 he created "one of the largest Negro newspaper organizations" in Louisville (March 18, 1954). The first issue of the Leader came off the press on November 3, 1917 and the public spirit of Cole manifested itself in that initial issue, reporting at length on the Young Men's Christian Association membership campaign. By the 1930s, the I. Willis Cole Publishing Company had established itself at 930 West Walnut Street, had twenty employees, and enjoyed a weekly circulation of approximately 20,000. The Louisville Leader was a black community newspaper in the fullest sense; it covered local religious, educational, social, fraternal, and sporting activities, as well as national and international news. According to the Louisville Encyclopedia, "The Leader announced births and deaths, named those suffering from illness, listed Louisville churches and their schedules of services, and printed news items from black correspondents elsewhere in the state. It advertised black businesses and professionals and sponsored contests. A voice for civil rights, the Leader styled itself 'your newspaper—militant but stable.' It implored blacks to vote; opposed Jim Crow laws, segregation, and black allegiance to the Republican [P]arty; and deplored lynchings as late as the 1940s." Cole planned ultimately to publish bi-weekly or even daily, but this hope ended with his death on February 19, 1950. His family tried to continue the newspaper, but suspended publication in the fall of 1950.


A small group of copies were received from Nora Cole on Sept. 12, 2018. Another smaller group was received from Donna Woods in 2012. These will be added to the online group once they are scanned.


Louisville Leader
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections Repository

Ekstrom Library, Lower Level Room 17
Louisville KY 40292
502 852-6752