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Whether it's art, literature, bluegrass or blues, Black Kentuckians have had a hand in shaping it. The African American Folklorist explores that history by providing a more personal look at culture. Building upon the existing newspaper and podcast series, The African American Folklorist presents a chance to share lesser known stories of influential figures.

The African American Folklorist: The SEEK Museum and More

Michael Morrow is a man with many titles: he’s Archivist & Curator of Logan Counties African American History, a community scholar, and the director of the SEEK (STRUGGLES FOR EMANCIPATION AND EQUALITY IN KENTUCKY)  Museum in Russellville. However, I’d suggest Mr. Morrow is much more than the earned titles he holds.

He’s also the holder of the scroll of African American individual and family stories that culminates in a history not known by many, making his contributions as the orator of this history and stories extremely significant. 

I was introduced to Mr. Morrow by Josh Niedwick, an associate producer/director at WKYU PBS, who is currently producing a documentary about four lynchings that took place in Russellville in 1908. This is one of the many stories of the black experience that Mr. Morrow researched, archived, and shares with the community. He’s a firm believer that the preservation of our stories help connect us to the root of who we are, resulting in self love, cultural love and the perseverance of the Black community. 

Part two of an African American Folklorist interview with Michael Morrow of the SEEK Museum in Russellville, KY.

I recently had the honor of sitting down and speaking with Mr. Morrow in detail about his journey, becoming the griot of his community, while bridging gaps between generations past and present.

A wealth of knowledge and experience, Mr. Morrow walks us through the realities of fighting to preserve his community, race relations, both past and present, and his introduction to the word “lynching”, which inspired the Kentucky Lynching Museum he’s put together and curated ten years prior to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller covered this exhibit in 2018 in her piece “Kentucky Lynching Museum Opened 10 years before new Mongomery Memorial.” 

Part three of an African American Folklorist interview with Michael Morrow of the SEEK Museum in Russellville, KY.

Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Mr. Morrow: 

Michael Morrow: We think it's so important that our people know from whence they came, you know, and kinda where I got started, I used to research. And I would go to archives and museums and look for stuff and courthouses look for stuff on African Americans.

Lamont Jack Pearley: What made you understand that was something necessary to do?

Michael Morrow: Well, it was just the fact that you couldn't find anything. I was doing a lot of genealogical research. And if you go in and you try to find death records, you can't find them, you try to find marriage records, you can't find, you want to know who the slave owners are, you can't find none, the records are there. They're just not easily accessible. So what I wanted to try and do is  figure out a way where my people could get to this information.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Is there a disconnect in the generations based on wanting to understand the traditions or histories of our  people and experiences?

Michael Morrow: I think it  is. I think there is with the younger generation, and in some cases in my generation. For some reason, and I don't know if it was purposely done, a lot of our people have been taught that we are nothing, that we have no history. And in that, a lot of times they seek to emulate what's on TV and stuff like that. So a lot of times what we do, we try to get away from who we are,  to be somebody else.

Lamont Jack Pearley: And that's interesting, because I know just in my personal experience, my grandparents would always be like, what your grandmother said, Stop meddling. Hush your mouth, this has grown for business. Everything is hush, hush, yeah. Do you think that's a big component to the latter generations not understanding because some of these things weren't talked about?

Michael Morrow: I think it was one of the problems. Our people couldn't talk about everything, you see what  I'm saying? Because to say the wrong thing around the wrong people could easily end up with you being killed could end up with you losing your livelihood. So we were hush mouth on a lot of things out of necessity. So I think it's played a whole lot of it. 

Lamont Jack Pearley: A lot of people have the understanding of revolution or being revolutionary as taking it to the street. Would you say there are other forms of revolution in regards to either reconnecting or unprogramming the minds of our people?

Michael Morrow: Exactly. That's what you have to do. You know, the construct is that the way you change bad situations in black communities, is that you get away from those communities. The problem with that is just very few people can get away. Right. So what we've tried to do in Russellville, we've tried to change our community.

Lamont Jack Pearley: Would it be a fair assessment to say that you didn't set out to be the tradition bearer or the holder of the scroll so to speak?

Michael Morrow: No! I never planned to do this. I told somebody, if you told me 30 years ago, I'd be running a museum and doing all this, I would have laughed. I guess God put me where he wanted me to be. 

Lamont Jack Pearley is an applied folklorist, ethnographer and African American traditional music historian and practitioner enrolled at WKU in the African American and Folk Studies programs. He is an African American Studies Ambassador with the African American Studies Department, hosts a weekly segment on WKU Public Radio called the African American Folklorist, and is the editor of the African American Folklorist Newspaper. He was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame as Great Blues Historian and TV/Radio Producer (2017) and Great Blues Artist (2018).
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