Mayor Greg Fischer today announced that Rev. Dr. Charles Elliott Jr., a longtime civic advocate in Louisville, is the 2018 recipient of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Award.
Born in Alabama, Rev. Elliott moved to Louisville in the early 1950s and has been pastor of King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church since 1961. He has devoted his life to helping the poor, fighting the corrupt and teaching children that education and jobs – and not violence or gangs – are their tickets out of poverty and despair.
“Rev. Elliott’s work embodies the spirit of this award, which recognizes those who lift our community by their work promoting justice and racial equality,” the Mayor said. “The Reverend takes those ideals from the pulpit to the street, and for decades, he has been a true inspiration for our community.”
Mayor Fischer will present the Freedom Award on Sunday, Jan. 14 during the “Keepers of the Dream” community arts celebration dedicated to Dr. King, at the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall, 501 W. Main St. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 5 p.m.
Rev. Elliot said he was surprised and honored by the Freedom Award recognition.
“I’ve tried to devote my life to the mission set out by Dr. King and other heroes who’ve gone before us,” Rev. Elliott said. “I wanted my work to create hope and strength in parts of our great city where it is most needed, and this honor is a wonderful affirmation for those efforts. I am truly grateful to the mayor for this wonderful honor.”
Rev. Elliott was born Aug. 17, 1934, in Wheeler, Ala., to Charles Elliott Sr. and Gertrude Steel Elliott.
He married the late Dorothy Lee Tucker Elliott in 1952, and they lived in Decatur, Ala., for two years before moving to Louisville, where he initially worked at Kentucky Foundry, and they lived in an apartment on West Chestnut Street. In 1958, he was ordained a Deacon at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.
Rev. Elliott says now that he knew that God wanted him to preach, but he chose to continue to serve as a deacon until the next year, when he learned, he says, that you can’t run from God. Called home to Alabama by news that his mother and brother both were hospitalized with serious illnesses, Rev. Elliott said he prayed that God would intervene, and in exchange, he promised to announce his calling to preach. When he arrived at the hospital in Decatur, he found both his mother and brother were on the mend and being released to go home.
He announced his calling in December of 1959, and preached his first sermon at Bethel Missionary Baptist. He later organized the Little Bethel Mission at 22nd and Cedar streets before being asked to be pastor of King Solomon.
He and his wife had three children, Darlene Johnson of California, the late Torone Mumford, and Charles Elliott III of Louisville.
Having grown up in the segregated South, Rev. Elliott said he’s always felt compelled to help people on the fringes with the message that education and jobs is the pathway safety and success.
And he practiced what he preached, earning his Doctor of Divinity degree from Union Biblical Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, in 2003 — when he was nearly 70 years old.
According to his church biography, Rev. Elliott organized the Kentucky Christian Benevolent Association in 1957 to help poor people in emergency situations after learning about a 9-year-old boy who had died of starvation. In 1967, he became chair of the Kentucky Christian Leadership Conference. He was also instrumental in passing legislation recognizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday in Kentucky, and helped lead the Parkland Development project. And in the late 1990s, he founded the Jesus and a Job campaign to provide work for those who have difficulty finding work because of substance abuse struggles or felony records.
Inducted in the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2012, Rev. Elliott has worked closely with Mayor Fischer’s administration on programs to help stem violence, a challenge he says “is going to take all of us contributing and working together to do whatever we can.”
The Freedom Award, first presented in 1988, recognizes citizens who have dedicated their lives to promoting justice, peace, freedom, non-violence, racial equality and civic activism.
Last year’s winner was Manfred Reid Sr.
Elliott will be presented an award of blown glass created by Ché Rhodes, Associate Professor, Head of Glass, University of Louisville Hite Art Institute.
The Jan. 14 concert and community arts celebration is presented by Kentucky Center ArtsReach, in collaboration with Louisville Metro Government and the River City Drum Corp.
The Mayor’s Freedom Award is sponsored by Republic Bank.
The 8th Annual Keepers of the Dream, hosted by Ahmaad Edmund, will feature presentation of the Freedom Award; the ArtsReach Living the Vision Awards; Westerfield Tolbert’s recitation of a speech by Dr. King; along with dance, music and spoken word.
Performances include ArtsReach Dance, Percussion and Violin Studios from Louisville Central Community Centers, Inc., Metro Parks Shawnee Arts and Cultural Center, Metro Parks Newburg Community Center, WESTEC and West End School. Other featured artists are Belizean Dance Intermix, poet Leen Abozaid, Ty Brown, featured artist Alexis Stix Brown, poet NAM, and the River City Drum Corp.
In addition to the performance and awards ceremony, the lobby will be bustling with activity prior to the event, with pre-show entertainment by Louisville Leopard Percussionists and exhibitors from local organizations. Following the main program, there will be a post-show celebration in the lobby featuring River City Drum Corps.