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

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.

Lamont Jack Pearley

Maxine Ray is a folklorist who grew up in the historic African American community of Jonesville, which Western Kentucky University replaced during the urban renewal process of the mid-1950s through late 1960s.

Walking through E.A. Diddle Arena and some of the parking lots that supplanted what was once a thriving Black community of professional masons and homeowners, it's possible to feel the urgency transmitted from Mrs. Ray as she spoke about her work and it's inspiration.

Mrs. Ray attended Western Kentucky University to pursue a degree in Sociology many years after her family and neighbors lost their homes. She would soon find out she had a calling to become a folklorist, as she earned her Master’s Degree from the WKU Folk Studies Program.

Lamont Jack Pearley

As a folklorist, I’m constantly searching for notable African American stories in and around Kentucky.

In my more recent research, I decided to look specifically in the Bowling Green area.

To my surprise, I found the name of an American composer and pianist that many people in the Bowling Green area are unfamiliar with: Porter Parrish Grainger. 

Editors note: A previously aired version of this story notes Grainger's last notable work as coming out in 1939. He published his last song in 1943.

Darrow Montgomery

Arnold Shultz is an African American fiddler and guitarist who was instrumental in the development of Bluegrass, along with other country-style music genres.

Born into a musical family, the unrecorded Kentucky legend made an impact on music up and down the Mississippi River, and introduced guitar chords, styles of play, and performances to the likes of Bill Monroe, known as the "Father of Bluegrass", and many others.

The son of a former slave, his family played hillbilly music and were professional touring musicians.

Shultz also broke racial barriers. He played with white musicians, black musicians, and in white establishments, black establishments, and elite homes.

The terms "soul food" and "Southern style food" were not an initial naming convention for the meals eaten in the households I grew up in. We ate what Grandma cooked. What Granddad bought, for Auntie and Momma to prepare.

As time went on, the meals of my family began popping up in stores around our community, then particular spaces across the nation by the name “Soul Food” or “Country Kitchen.”

I remember Country Kitchen specifically, because it was on the route home from church, and on special occasions my family and I would stop there to order meals. The food was good, not as good as my grandma, or mother’s, but nonetheless we enjoyed.