The African American Folklorist

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 thing with folklore, outside of history or entertainment, is we have an opportunity to honor, celebrate, and platform the auntie that lives next door that only three people know about this lady. But those three people, since they were born, she provided some cultural service," - African American Folklorist Host Lamont Pearley

Jared Kunish

“Family is very important. It's a legacy and preservation.”

From public defender to city commissioner, Bowling Green native Carlos Bailey's humble beginnings and family foundation led to a life of service and integrity.

 

Crediting his mother, uncles, and cousins for the inspiration of his achievements, Bailey said the sense of community was instilled in him since the days of their home on Combs Avenue, which they still own 50 years later.

“I grew up there. But when I grew up there, I knew my neighbors, you know, and I knew their families at the time. At that time, it was mainly African American families. It is different today when I go back, and when I go over there it’s more diverse," Bailey said.

Rev. Nerica Bowie

“Greater than being a preacher or being a financial leader is loving people. And love has two sides. Love covers you and protects you. But love also corrects you.”

Reverend Freddie Brown preached at the State Street Baptist Church in Bowling Green for close to 30 years prior to his passing. Brown, a native of Alabama, made significant contributions throughout the African American community, leaving a legacy that continues today. One specific contribution by Brown is the number of women he ordained and licensed to be reverends in the Baptist denomination. There were four women who Reverend Brown ordained and licensed, the last of whom is Reverend Nerica Bowie.

“He was preparing to retire and I came and he rescinded his resignation and told me a year later, you're really the reason I stayed because God said, I have to get you ready for maximum impact," Rev. Bowie said.


 

  

WKU

The life journey of Terrance Brown, Western Kentucky University’s Dean of Potter’s College of Arts & Letters, encapsulates the concept of the voice as a significant instrument of liberation and legacy. Brown accomplishes this through both academia and performance.

Starting his musical journey as a trombone player in high school, he would soon pivot from his goal of pre-med. 

“I was going to go to Birmingham Southern...I was just blown away by the music. And I said I can't really leave this. So I went home and I talked to my mom and I said, I'm not going to [pursue] pre-med. I'm going to [aim for] music and she looked at me and said baby, whatever you want to do, we will make it work.”

With a strong foundation and support from fellow musicians and music teachers, Brown’s endeavor was met with what he says was an opportunity outside of his comfort zone. “I was singing His Eyes On The Sparrow with Jurrell. And he was playing, we were singing gospel, and I didn't really know how to sing! Honestly, I was just singing.” Yet, he was heard by a choir director who offered Brown an invitation to join the choir. 


Julie Bowles

“I'm a firm believer that we have to tell our story; it has to be told as thoroughly and honestly as possible.” 

Black narratives coming from African Americans are important when working to liberate the mind. Recently, I spoke with Derrick Simmons whose childhood love for reading and writing materialized into several self-published book titles. His first book, Message To The Little Homies, was inspired while Simmons was incarcerated, having a phone conversation with his son.

“The overall message in the book is to change the way that you see yourself, to change the way that you think, and by doing so, your behavior will automatically change. The book opens with a letter where I'm actually [writing a letter] “dear little homie” and I'm letting the little homie know that I know you are out in the streets, you [are] wilding out. But change is necessary! You need to change your life. So [in] the first chapter it actually deals with a brief lesson in history.”


 

  

Lamont Jack Pearley

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.


Colin Jackson

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.


WKU Dept. of History

Earlier this summer, President Joe Briden proclaimed June 19th, 2021 as "Juneteenth Day of Observance." It's named for the day in 1865 when Union Troops arrived in Galveston, TX, announcing to over a quarter of a million enslaved people that they were free.

The news brought both celebration and skepticism throughout the Black community nationwide, since a large percentage of people knew nothing of the event.

The same can be said about the August 8th celebration specific to western Kentucky, and surrounding areas.

Western Kentucky University Professor Emeritus John Hardin says August 8th celebrates emancipation in Kentucky.


Julie Bowles

There are times when younger generations say they don't want to listen to their parents' music, or imitate their styles. However, the concept of what, and who, is the coolest stands the test of time.

I often say hip-hop is the great, great, great grandchild of the blues. That assessment comes based on my generation in comparison to my grandparents' generation.


Julie Bowles

Born and raised in McComb, Mississippi, the home of Bo Diddley, Castro Coleman has, like the legends who pre-date him, made a name for himself in the blues and gospel field.

Starting in the church, like many of our most notable Black musicians, Coleman has grown to become an A&R, producer, songwriter and artist at the iconic Malaco Records. 


Imogene Murphy

Legendary bluesman Joe Louis Walker has performed for over 50 years. A product of the great migration that sent him and his family from Mississippi to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area, Walker was ordained a bluesman from a young age as he was handed the torch of African American traditional music from his parents. 

 

The African American Folklorist: The Gospel Truth

Jul 17, 2021
Tonnie Marin

Elder Marilyn Whitlock Hockersmith is a pillar of the Shake Rag community, State Street Baptist Church, and plainly put, the roots of Black Kentucky.

Her story starts with humble beginnings, but as the Bible says, your gift will make room for you, and Elder Hockersmiths gifts have made room for her and all those she’s blessed.


Lamont Pearley

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. 


Courtesy of Michael Jones

Author, historian, and features writer for the African American Folklorist Newspaper Michael L. Jones has made significant contributions to the preservation and awareness-raising of Kentucky history. From journalism to writing his award-winning book Louisville Jug Music: From Earl McDonald to the National Jubilee, Jones highlights notable African Americans, communities, traditional musics and the like. 


Julie Bowles

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.

 

    

Bill Sheckles

A new museum in Bardstown is intended to help fill in some gaps in the town’s history. The Bardstown-Nelson County African American Heritage Museum opened June 10.

In his work as a truancy officer for Bardstown City Schools, Bill Sheckles realized that many young people don’t know about the contributions African Americans have made to the city in all walks of life. 

Sheckles is a city councilman and former Bardstown Mayor who coordinated the development of the Bardstown-Nelson County African American Heritage Museum. 

The museum is located in an historic building constructed circa 1812 that’s currently the First Baptist Church.


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