Abel Brothers funeral program (Kentucky Library Ephemera Collection)
In 1900, James E. Kuykendall (1874-1960), an African-American native of Butler County, Kentucky, opened a funeral home at 819 State Street in Bowling Green. For more than 50 years, he served the city’s African-American population both alone and in partnership with James A. Boyd. In the 1930s, brothers Francis and Richard Abel established Abel Brothers, which also served the same constituents.
The records of these historic African-American businesses were later placed with Gatewood and Sons Funeral Chapel, and copies are held in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Dating from 1900-1970, they provide data about funeral dates and expenses, but some are useful genealogical resources because they provide additional information about the deceased such as occupation, cause of death, parents’ names, and place of interment. Also included with these records is a listing of interments in Mt. Moriah, Bowling Green’s African-American cemetery.
A finding aid for these funeral home records can be accessed here. For more collections on funeral homes and other businesses, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
“What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
In the fall of 1995, four folk studies students from the Cultural Conservation class at WKU conducted an oral history project to document African American heritage in Caldwell, Christian, Todd, and Trigg counties. With grant-based funding from the Pennyrile Area Development District (PADD), local committees were established in each county, allowing interviewers to become better acquainted with long-time residents and their personal narratives, which focused on their experiences of living in Trigg County.
The student group recorded a total of 18 interviews with 15 participants, most of whom have longstanding familial ties to the region. The interviews, which often take the format of a “life history,” cover a broad range of topics from American Bandstand, sorority life, courtship customs, and bootlegging, to tobacco harvesting, family reunions, quilting bees, and church services. The scope of the project, spanning nearly five decades from the early 1900s to the late 1950s, marks an era of both agricultural and industrial growth, political uncertainty, and technological advancement—all nipping at the heels of the stirring civil rights movement.
Serving as the first oral history project of its kind in Trigg County, the lives of its participants are played out on tape in ways that reveal what it meant to be black in the Jim Crow South, how physical landscapes shape cultural traditions, and how a strong sense of identity was—and remains—crucial in developing supportive, lasting communities.
Onie Baker at her home in Cadiz, Kentucky (October 1995)
The collection itself (FA 196), located within WKU’s Manuscripts and Folklife Archives, contains photographs of participants, brief biographical sketches, original interview cassette tapes, and detailed indexes of every recorded interview.
For information on African American experiences in Kentucky, Trigg County, and additional oral history projects, visit TopSCHOLAR or browse through KenCat, a searchable database featuring manuscripts, photographs and other non-book objects housed in the Department of Library Special Collections!
Post written by WKU Folk Studies graduate student Delainey Bowers
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The Department of Library Special Collections at WKU already has an impressive collection of illustrative material related to Mammoth Cave. These items include glass plate negatives, post cards, guide books, etc. A recent acquisition of a complete set Charles L. Waldack’s 1866 stereo views will greatly enhance these materials as Waldack is the first photographer of the cave. The 42 “Magnesium Light Views in Mammoth Cave” were published by E. & H.T. Anthony & Co. and include scenes of the Hotel, guests, the African American cave guides and many interior shots of cave formations. Waldack, originally from Belgium came to the United States in 1857. It was noted that he brought “sunlight” to the interior of the cave by the use of magnesium, so that one of the greatest natural wonders of the world could be seen by many. His biography from a special edition of the “Journal of Speleological History” (2000) notes: “These were the first high quality photographs produced underground in any cave. Waldack was naturalized as an American citizen after his marriage to Mary Tanner (born about 1849) of Kentucky, who was also a photographer. He set up a photography shop at 31 West 3rd Street in Cincinnati and made many excellent views of buildings, streets, and bridges between 1857 and 1873. Most important was his 42 stereo cards of Mammoth Cave. The Anthony series was continuously printed until about 1872, and 12 of the photographs were printed as engravings in the 1870 book, “A Historical and Descriptive Narrative of the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky” by William S. Forwood.
It was a domestic tragedy that devolved into a spat about domestic servants. On June 7, 1945, Sadie Brown, the longtime African-American cook of prominent Bowling Green banker Max Nahm, was arguing with a male acquaintance in the kitchen of Nahm’s home at 14th and College Streets. The argument ended when he grabbed a knife, slashed her throat, and fled.
From her State Street home a block away, Martha Potter wrote the news to her children. For most of her life, Martha, who kept boarders in her home, relied heavily on African-American domestic servants, but the past few years had been a trial. Susie Potter, her own longtime cook and maid with whom she shared a surname, had resigned in 1937, and recently the attraction of better-paying war work had made replacements scarce.
But now it was Max Nahm’s turn to experience a “servant problem.” As the local African-American community reacted in shock to Sadie’s murder, Susie told Martha of their folk beliefs regarding violent death. “Susie said that murder blood was hard to wash out and that if it wasn’t washed up before the victim’s death it never would come out,” Martha informed her children. Sally, her current cook, had agreed, adding that “every time there is a thunderstorm that spot will come back.”
A few weeks later, Susie herself was cooking for Nahm, but his search for live-in help remained futile because no servant was willing to stay overnight in the house. Then Susie became ill, and she and Martha made a secret pact: after Susie’s recovery, she would return to work for Martha, not for Nahm.
The conspiracy continued through the fall of 1946, with Martha confiding to her children that “Max still says she is coming to work for him.” When Susie finally rejoined Martha’s household in spring 1947, Nahm “got mighty mad,” but Martha haughtily denied having “stolen” his cook. Although he found a replacement, the 84-year-old banker nursed a grudge that Martha attributed solely to ego. “Max is still pouting with me about Susie,” Martha wrote in June 1948–a full three years after Sadie Brown’s tragic death in his kitchen.
Yesterday we received 9 more videos from our digitization vendor. Some of these are finished products of earlier digitized b-roll. The new titles are:
Student Recruit Master, ca. 1980, a small clip of an interview with WKU president Donald Zacharias is available on YouTube.
There are several segments from the WKU Magazine show:
Fashion Merchandising, nd includes interviews with Vickie Driver, Sallye Clark, Julia Kirk, Donna Lanehart, Virginia Atkins, Diana Youngblood and Karen Massel regarding their experiences at the Atlanta Fashion Market. Continue reading →
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Reverend Henry D. Carpenter was a leader in the Bowling Green NAACP.
On this day (February 12) in 1909, a group of activists in New York decided to reinvigorate African Americans’ post-Reconstruction quest for civil and political rights by forming the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Exactly a decade later, the Bowling Green, Kentucky branch of the NAACP was organized. At a mass meeting at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, after hearing the urgings of various speakers on “the good that can result from same,” the first 37 members enrolled.
The Manuscripts & Folklife Archives holdings of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections include copies of the membership lists and minutes of the Bowling Green NAACP from its inception to June 1927. Meetings, which rotated through the churches of the city, featured music, prayer, speakers, and discussions of local issues affecting African Americans. For example, at an executive meeting in March 1919, the problems of “unequal accommodations for our race in traveling,” the “unsanitary conditions existing in the colored Waiting Room at the [train] depot,” and “The Need of a lunch stand for our Race at the depot” were referred to a committee on grievances for follow-up with the proper authorities. In May, a clergyman “spoke of indignities heaped upon our people by arresting them on suspicion and when proven guiltless nothing done to exonerate the suspect.”
The chapter also considered issues brought to its attention in press releases from the national organization. At a meeting in June 1921, local churches were asked to take special offerings for the “stricken & suffering” victims of a destructive race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in October 1922 the executive resolved to collect funds to support the NAACP’s advocacy of a federal anti-lynching law.
Click here for a finding aid to the NAACP (Bowling Green Chapter) Collection. For more collections on African Americans in Kentucky, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
It’s February and during Black History Month the WKU Archives is inundated with questions regarding Blacks and other minorities at WKU. We have created a website: Cultural Diversity at WKU which is a bibliography of resources regarding minorities on campus.
In addition, we have digitized vertical files regarding Jonesville, the African American community which became part of WKU in the 1960s as well as WKU Cultural Diversity.
There are also digitized records regarding desegregation and minority enrollments from the president’s office and a student paper regarding attitudes of WKU students toward minorities in 1970.
Photographs are being digitized weekly and added to KenCat our online catalog.
WKU Archives staff will continue to post documents and add to the Cultural Diversity at WKU website. Additional information may be found in the records of the Board of Regents and University Senate.