Large crowd shows for Rabb ceremony

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Chris Rabb speaks of his families struggles, triumphs

By Ashley Sutter

A Shelby County family that made great strides for African-Americans has finally received an honor that was long overdue.

On Tuesday, a historical marker was placed in front of the house of Dr. Maurice F. Rabb, Sr., his wife Mrs. Jewel Miller Rabb and their son Dr. Maurice F. Rabb, Jr. once called home nearly 70 years ago. Both Dr. Rabb Sr. and Mrs. Rabb were active in the NAACP and Dr. Rabb Jr. went on to become the first African-American student at the University of Louisville and in the university’s medical school.

That small ceremony – which was organized by homeowners Mike and Betsy Miller when learned of the home’s history – drew in a crowd of at least 70 and included several speakers of high importance. Senator Rand Paul, Mayor Tom Hardesty, and Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger stood alongside Miller and Chris Rabb, the son of Rabb, Jr.

Each speaker gave a special message regarding the family’s accomplishments and spoke of the great strides the family made for the African-American community.

But Chris Rabb noted “You can’t praise my family without recognizing the context from which they came from.”

Chris Rabb began his speech with tears and sorrow, speaking of the oppression his father and grandfather had to fight through, saying that his grandfather spoke very little about his time in Shelbyville.

“It caused him too much pain,” Chris Rabb said.

He later cracked a smile when he said his father always wanted to be a photographer, but Rabb, Sr. demanded he become a doctor.

“And that is why my father made sure my brother and I were not doctors,” he laughed.

In the late 1940’s, working from his Shelbyville home at 413 Henry Clay Street, Rabb, Sr. was one of the only African-American doctors in the area, serving patients in four additional counties.

Following a fire in the home, Rabb, Sr. and his wife moved to Louisville, where, at that time, his son was living with his grandmother and attending Central Colored High School, a school where his mother would later teach math for many years.

During his time in Louisville, Rabb Sr. served as Director of the Red Cross Hospital and was in charge of the Diagnostic V.D clinic at the City-County Health Department at the Central Louisville Health Center.

Their son, Rabb, Jr later followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a renowned Ophthalmologist.

But Rabb’s tone would change to a more serious and passionate tone.

“This event…represents the best of America. We want to live in a country were everyone has the opportunity to flourish irrespective of their background,” he said.

“But here today I stand before a diverse audience, and I have a greater since of hope because the things that my grandparents and my father fought for were considered radical. [My father and grandparents] were considered non-violent militants for integration. It is the norm, the mainstream now.”

Following the ceremony, Rabb spoke of the obstacles faced by African-Americans in the 40’s and 50’s and said his family helped with more than their medical and educational needs.

“Every major civil rights activist that came to the South stayed with my parents,” he said. “They were not allowed to stay in hotels.”

Though the Rabb family that once resided in the Shelbyville home have all passed away, the surviving family members continue to impact the world. 

Chris Rabb resides in Philidelphia where he serves as a professor at the Fox School of Business at Temple University and his brother Maurice Rabb III is also a teacher and a computer scientist.

Chris Rabb spoke with great pride of his family that overcame so much, saying, “I’m very proud of my family. Their accomplishments were in spite of laws that prohibited any meaningful upward mobility of black people in this state.”

Before Rev. Robert Marshall closed the ceremony with a prayer he spoke briefly of the Rabb family, whom he was close friends with, and his memories of them, adding that the honor was long overdue.

“But as I always say, better late than never.”