Alderman Russell Perry Lee (1907-1965) was born in Elizabethtown to Columbus and Rosa (Bolan) Lee. He was one of four children. By the 1920 Census, the family had moved to Louisville. Rosa was enumerated as a single mother working as a laundress. The family lived on S. Hancock Street in Shelby Park. During the 1930s, Lee was active in Civil Rights, writing pieces for the “Louisville Leader.” On April 16, 1942, he enlisted in the US Army for World War II. He was a Technician fifth grade until he was discharged on September 21, 1945. Lee worked as supervisor for the National Youth Administration Office, a New Deal agency providing work and education for young adults. He also worked as a juvenile probation officer.
In 1961, Lee ran for election to become 8th Ward alderman. His campaign came out of the Civil Rights movement and the Non-Partisan Registration Committee (NPRC), which sought the removal of Democratic Mayor Bruce Hoblitzell and the Democratic-controlled alderman for rejecting desegregation ordinances. The NPRC’s slogan “50,000 voting Negroes can totally desegregate Louisville” presented their goal to register more African Americans to vote but to also support good candidates. In less than a year, the city’s registered African Americans rose from 40% to 70%. The 1961 election made William Cowger the city’s first Republican Mayor in 28 years, elected numerous republican judges, and elected the first African American aldermen, Lee and Louise Reynolds (11th Ward).
Lee won reelection in 1963. During his tenure, he was able to vote for a 1963 ordinance desegregating public accommodations and a 1965 ordinance forbidding employment discrimination. However, Lee died on January 18, 1965 from cancer. He was buried in Section 11, Row 16, Grave 11 of Eastern Cemetery with a military headstone. In 1968, a park at 35th & Southern Avenue was named in his honor. Lee’s brother George is also buried in Eastern Cemetery with a military headstone (Section 11, Row 17, Grave 6). Lee’s photo is from “Courier-Journal” November 8, 1961.