The African American Folklorist: Preserving Black Bowling Green Through Art

Sep 3, 2021

In 1956, Margaret Munday became the first African American student to enroll at Western Kentucky University. She graduated in 1960.

Today, Northeast Hall on the school's campus has been renamed Munday Hall in honor of Margaret and her many achievements.

Twelve years after Ms. Munday graduated, local artist Ms. Alice Waddell became WKU's first Black homecoming queen. She said there wasn't much socializing between the races back then.

“At that time, Western was almost like two universities. [A] Black university, and a white university. I represented the black student population, it was something that was desired by the Black student body. They wanted to have representation. In areas other than just sports,” Waddell said.

Ms. Waddell grew up in the Shake Rag neighborhood, with roots in Black Bowling Green stretching back more than four generations. As far as she can remember, she's always had a love for art.

“I think I've always had the desire to express myself visually. But as I got older and started really looking at other people's art forms and thinking about what I liked about it, and the direction that I wanted to go, I really realized I did not want to be a realist,” Waddell said.

With inspiration from artists she admired, Ms. Waddell found her voice and style. After learning the principles of painting, she focused on creating portraits that represented her culture and community with the outcome being relatable to how she sees them.

“Now my work has kind of taken a turn because of a lot of negative things going on, that need to be documented and words are not always for everybody. So art to me is a good way to document things visually,” Waddell said.

Recently, Ms. Waddell worked with the Kentucky Museum on WKU’s campus on a fresco mural honoring the historic Jonesville community.

“Remember that community, to honor that community, to give some kind of lasting history of that community, and tell the story of what took place with that community. Which was just taken away from the people that exist there and unfairly and in a way in which it should not have been done,” Waddell said.

Like all great artists, Ms. Waddell has a story behind her work. When asked if she was the cultural bearer of Black Bowling Green’s story, she said she tries. However, Ms. Waddell's message in the mural is hard to misconstrue.

“The takeover, so to speak, of the land, and the painting will be an illustration of people leaving the community. Also, children that are pointing towards Western Kentucky University asking the question of what's going on. What is that at the top of the hill and if you look at the sky, you can see that there's a change in color. The sky is bluer on top of the community, above the community, and as it goes towards the hill, it becomes gray, which represents a storm, and the storm is coming towards Jonesville," Waddell said.