Black History Month: Joseph B. Hammond, 1st African-American BOWW member

Until 1974, Louisville Water Company had never appointed an African American to its Board of Water Works. The lack of diversity in organizations at that time was not uncommon in Louisville.

Then Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane appointed Joseph B. Hammond to finish the last two years of John H. Krusenklaus’s term with the Board of Water Works.

Hammond, a powerful businessman in Louisville’s west end, was a real estate broker. After the racial unrest of the 1960s and the 1968 riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., whites abandoned the west end.

Hammond saw an opportunity and urged African Americans to buy their businesses. However, he gained the most recognition as owner of Joe’s Palm Room, a popular jazz night club on West Jefferson Street. “[Joe’s Palm Room is a place] where your color didn’t matter,”recalled Dave Armstrong, then Jefferson County Judge-Executive. College students and young professionals went to discuss politics, civil rights, and business.

The Courier Journal article written at the time of his death, stated, “Politicians, black and white alike, would make the pilgrimage to Joe’s Palm Room to talk to Hammond, seeking advice and his help as ‘king maker.’”

Hammond ran the Palm Room for nearly a quarter of a century — selling it in 1979. In addition to his notoriety with the night club, Hammond helped Rev. W. J. Hodge become the first black aldermanic president in the late 1970s. Among other politicians, U.S. Representative Romano Mazzoli and Armstrong sought Hammond’s help and advice.

Throughout his business career, Hammond looked for ways to help not only the black community but Continued from previous page the entire community at large. In total, Hammond completed four successive full terms, serving until he retired in 1992 after 18 years on Louisville Water’s Board of Water Works.

In the Courier Journal, Mayor Jerry Abramson called Hammond’s death in 1997, “a real loss to our community because he was a very successful businessman and a very active advocate in our community and on public policy issues of all types.”

The article went on to say Hammond was “dedicated to helping people and improving the community,” and would be “best remembered for the way he helped people.”