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Digital Collections : Louisville Leader Collection

Louisville Leader Collection

About the Newspaper

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.i

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:

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.ii

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.

About the Louisville Leader Collection

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.

While a significant run of the Leader was filmed, substantial gaps exist, and a list of those missing issues is found at the beginning of each reel. Roll I contains a reel-by-reel inventory of the microfilm series, as well as selected historical materials relating to the Louisville Leader and its editor. A group of selected newspaper fragments was filmed at the end of the series.

The seven reels of microfilm form the Louisville Leader Collection, 1917-1950 at the University of Louisville Archives and Records Center. The digital files shown in this collection, dating from November 10, 1917 through September 30, 1950, were scanned from that microfilm by Prescient Information Systems, Inc. in November and December 2011. The files were received as 400 ppi grayscale TIFFs arranged by microfilm roll, and were converted to PDFs with optical character recognition (OCR) text using Adobe Acrobat. Separate files were then created for each issue.

About the Louisville Leader Transcription Project

Unfortunately, the automated OCR was of very poor quality, due to the often faded, torn, or misaligned text on the source images. We therefore sought assistance in creating full-text transcriptions of these articles to make them more easily searchable. Inspired by similar endeavors at other institutions, often for handwritten text, and using the open-source Scripto plugin for Omeka software from George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, we uploaded selected articles from the Louisville Leader to be transcribed and added into the software hosting the PDFs of the paper. Active for nearly 7 years, the Louisville Leader transcription project resulted in the transcription of nearly 50,000 articles.

About the Cataloging

All issues of the Louisville Leader are eight pages unless otherwise stated.

If the Description field accompanying an issue says that pages or portions of pages are faded it means that at least some portions are illegible. It can be expected that almost every issue has faded portions, but it is only noted in the Description if they are so faded that it may cause illegibility.

If a Description says that portions are missing from a page, it is due to pages being worn or torn, but if the description says an article has been clipped, then a portion of specific columns have been cut out.

Conditions of Use

The University of Louisville welcomes fair use of this website and its contents. If you wish to publish, broadcast, or publicly display these materials, please notify Archives and Special Collections. In addition, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions, which may include paying fees for commercial use. For further information about permissions, use, and ordering reproductions, see Order Reproductions, or contact Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

To cite an image from this collection, please use the format:

[Image Number], Louisville Leader Collection, 1917-1950, University Archives and Records Center, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

To cite the digital version, add its Reference URL (found by following the link in the header above the digital file).


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 funded the microfilming of the newspaper in 1978 by University of Louisville Archives and Records Center employees Dwayne Cox, Thomas L. Owen, Pamela L. Hess, and Robert L. Bryden.

The microfilm reels were scanned by Prescient Information Systems, Inc. in November and December 2011 as 400 ppi grayscale TIFFs. Carrie Daniels converted the TIFFs to PDFs and OCRed the files using Adobe Acrobat. Meredith Maple separated the PDFs by issue, and created metadata for each issue, as well as selecting and formatting articles to be transcribed. Elizabeth Gholami, Jaelyn Saltsman, Rabija Efendira, Whitney Andrews, and Jenny Chen also selected and formatted articles for transcription. Rachel I. Howard uploaded the PDFs into CONTENTdm version 6.1.3. Terri Holtze designed the HTML pages and, with Randy Kuehn, implemented the software to permit the transcription of the articles. Dwayne K. Buttler, J.D., provided copyright advice.


i John E. Kleber. The Kentucky Encyclopedia. (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky), 1992: p. 583.

ii Ibid.

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