A student intern in the Folklife Archives of WKU’s Special Collections Library has recently transcribed the tape of a 1993 interview with Herbert Alexander Oldham (b. 1932), an African American and native of Christian County, Kentucky who grew up in Memphis Junction and Bowling Green. A 1951 alumnus of State Street High School, Oldham graduated from St. Augustine College in Raleigh, North Carolina, then returned to Bowling Green for a career in teaching and administration that included service as principal of High Street Elementary School.
Oldham’s interview includes his memories of the African American educational experience in Bowling Green. “I lived in a kind of communal community where I had white friends and black friends,” he recalled. “We played together all day long. We would leave home together in the mornings going to school and we would walk up Main Street to Center Street. We got to Center Street, and my white friends went to Bowling Green High School. I turned left on Center and went to State Street. In the afternoon, we’d meet on the same corner and we come on back home.” Oldham remembered not being able to eat at the Woolworth’s food counter and using segregated seating in the balcony of the local movie theater. He also recalled Bowling Green’s thriving African-American businesses, especially along Main Street between Clay and Kentucky Streets.
Although Oldham went to college “as far from Bowling Green as I could get,” he fulfilled his intention to return home, where he taught science and coached at High Street School and at Bowling Green High School. After WKU permitted African Americans to enroll, Oldham earned his master’s degree and returned to High Street School as its principal. His long career in education ended with his retirement in 1993.
The complete transcript of Herbert Oldham’s interview can be downloaded by clicking here. Search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat for more resources on African Americans in Bowling Green and Kentucky.