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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: Shake Rag Barbershop

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Colin Jackson
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Shake Rag Barbershop stands as a homage to the historic African American community that has made significant cultural contributions to Black Bowling Green.

"It was called Mr. Jimmy's at that time. I believe he was the first licensed Black barber in Bowling Green and had his first licensed Black Barshop in Shake Rag. Right over here on Chestnut Street," Shake Rag barbershop owner-operator Chris Page said of the local legend Jimmy Carpenter.

Following in Carpenter's legacy, the tradesmen of the Shake Rag Barbershop take their craft as seriously as they take their culture, community, and clients.

Also active in the community, Page is a philanthropist, community activist, and pastor.

"Most of what you see now, my father was doing in Horse Cave, Ky., on a smaller level. We just didn't call it the thing we call it [today]. But it already came out of Henrytown. So, when I got my own platform, when I bought Shake Rag Barbershop, i just started incorporating some of the things he was doing in Horse Cave, back when we were kids," Page said.

Crediting his father for showing him philanthropy, hard work and community organizing, Page attributes his exposure to the barber trade to his aunt and grandparents. The urgency to know, tell and pass down our narrative as African Americans inspire him to share.

"That's why we're starting to promote our own history," Page said speaking of his aunt Leticia Page and his great-great-grandparents, Leticia and Joe Page.

"They had a barbershop in Horse Cave. My father, Leon Page, used to say, 'Well, Granddad could only cut white people's hair.'" Page said.

Despite being a Black-owned business, Page said his great-grandfather could not cut Black people's hair because his shop was located in downtown Horse Cave in an era when Black people could not come to that part of the city.

"That's why Black barbers have always been considered the best barbers because they knew how to cut white people's hair and Black people's hair," Page said.

African American history and family narratives were a crucial part of the dinner table conversation for Page growing up. He said post-Civil War, the barbershop was the first Black business for African Americans to be independent of a racist, oppressive system.

"If you get that book by Quincy Mills, 'Cutting Along the Colorlines.' This stuff, I learned in the book when I got to read it, I'm like, 'Well, my father had already told me that.' Ijust really believe, as far as barbershops go, Black barbers and Black barbershops have always been the best in the world. We've always been!" Page said.

He added, "Besides the Black church, the barbershop is the most sacred institution in the Black community," listing as aplace where conversations can take place and individuals can come together to solve issues that plague the Black community.

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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