By Lucy M. Pritchett
|Mervin Aubespin is co-author of Two Centuries of Black Louisville, a Photographic History published in 2011.
Photo by Melissa Donald
Although originally from Opelousas, Louisiana, Mervin Aubespin considers Louisville his hometown. He is retired associate editor of The Courier-Journal, a self-taught artist, author, and traveller of the world. He reported first-hand on the city’s civil rights disturbances in 1968. He is past president of the National Association of Black Journalists and received the Ida B. Wells Award for his efforts to bring minorities into the field of journalism. He is a member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame and the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.
How did you come to live in Louisville?
I graduated from high school when I was 15 and went to Tuskegee University in Alabama. My mother and stepfather were living here and I would come to Louisville for holidays and vacations. After I graduated from Tuskegee with a degree in industrial arts, I applied for a teaching job with the school system here — I was only 19. I started as a substitute teacher at Central High School and then taught shop at DuValle Middle School.
What have you learned from life?
That people are willing to help you if you make an effort to help yourself.
How has life surprised you?
You never know who you will meet along the way. Cassius Clay lived just around the corner from me when I was substitute teaching at Central High School. I would give him a lift to school. He called me ‘Prof.’ He used to tell me, “One day I’ll be giving you a ride,” and he made good on that promise. I also met Nelson Mandela, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and traveled with author Nadine Gordimer.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
See it for yourself, understand what you see, and then go home and write about it. If you understand it, you are in a better position to explain it to someone else.
What is a skill every man should have?
The ability to communicate no matter where you are. In a foreign country the fact that you tried to learn a few words in that language shows respect and your willingness to meet people halfway.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
My life has been a series of lessons. Sometimes we think we know the answers but don’t really look at the problem. Then we discover we don’t really know the answers after all.
I was sitting in the backyard the other morning looking at the flowers blooming, appreciating the beauty around me, sipping my coffee, listening to the mourning doves that have taken up residence in the yard, and it occurred to me — everything is all right.
Keep your eye on the things that are important or you will lose them. Someone who finds them won’t return them to you.
Trait you dislike in yourself?
I have a tendency to put things off.
Significant influences in your life?
Older people who talked to me when I was growing up. I was surrounded by my mom, aunts, female cousins. They taught me how to dance, how to cook, and how to look on the bright side.
I am a collector. I love sitting in my chair in my living room surrounded by my collection of art, African masks, books, and photos. Each object has its own story.
What would you change about Louisville?
I would like to see more diversity in the neighborhoods.
What’s the biggest issue facing America today?
America needs to continue to have influence on how the world operates and hopefully that influence comes from doing a lot of listening and not so much talking. America always has been in the forefront of endorsing a democratic world and has to continue that role whether it is easy or not.
I have enjoyed every minute. If I didn’t feel I was making a difference I didn’t want any part of it.