The African American Folklorist: Wathetta Buford, Preserving Black Bowling Green
When driving south on Chestnut St. in Bowling Green, toward the traffic circle on Western Kentucky University's campus, a beautiful grey home sitting behind a lovely tree stands out.
That structure is the African American Museum.
For some, it may be unassuming, but once you're inside, you're taken on a tour of generations of Black Bowling Green that includes military uniforms worn by African American soldiers, the first Black homecoming queen at Western Kentucky University in 1972, and memorabilia from neighborhoods like Jonesville, Shake Rag, and Delafield.
The tour is conducted by the project manager, who also happens to be the first Black person to work in an office at WKU, while being one of only eight African American students attending the university.
Mrs. Wathetta Buford has such a rich history that connects her to the roots of Black Bowling Green’s historic communities and legacies. The African American Folklorist caught up with Mrs. Buford to discuss her story and the urgency to partner with Mrs. Maxine Ray and create the African American Museum of Bowling Green.
Read an exerpt from the interview below:
Wathetta Buford: I grew up here in Bowling Green born here, went to school here lived on Main Street, which is not in the shake rag area. Not in the Church Street area. Not in the Delafield area. Shake Rag is where I went to school. I was involved in everything. So it happened probably in Shake Rag. Jonesville was where my grandmother lived. And my grandmother, I would go see her every other weekend. It was my father's mother. And my father was in the Air Force all of my growing-up life. So we always went to his mom's house every other weekend in visited with her.
Lamont Jack Pearley: Rooted in the communities of Bowling Green. Mrs.Wathetta shares how her family arrived in the area.
Wathetta Buford: My great grandfather came to Bowling Green to pastor an AME church here. That's why my family's here. He was a pastor and my family moved to Bowling Green from Louisville. So he could pastor the church here.
Lamont Jack Pearley: Mrs. Buford still attends the same church, though its physical location has changed.
Wathetta Buford: I got a job on Western's Campus. In June the year I, graduated at 16. A student worker, I could tell you, there were maybe eight African Americans there. In my second semester, it went to about 75 or 100. At the time that I started working in Dr. Horigan’s office, I was the only black in the office on campus, but I was a student worker I wasn't employed by Western so that's not part of their history. But I know Yeah, that I was a student worker, and I was the first black that was in an office.
Lamont Jack Pearley: With such a rich life history coming from a family of educators, Mrs. Wathetta notices the urgency to preserve the history of black Bowling Green.
Wathetta Buford: Currently Mrs. Maxime and I are the ones with new era planning. Part of our mission was to have a museum. I started doing some consulting work with the convention and Visitor's Bureau here. They had me doing their traveling to African American conventions, to try to get the conventions to come to Bowling Green. When I talked with people about bringing their conventions to Bowling Green, they would say “Do you have an African American Museum?” And my spiel was no and I would bring that back to Maxine and at the time and said we got to get him African American Museum you know, and we were currently working on preserving the history from Shake Rag. So it's like, well, we've got this step. We've got enough to put in a museum. We just need a museum that started with city commission meetings, ask him for funding. They saw my face and Mrs. Maxine's face several times and we finally got some money to begin a museum.