Showcasing the Arts

Folk Heritage Award

Maxine Ray

Warren County

Maxine Ray has dedicated her life to documenting and sharing the stories of Black communities in Bowling Green. The neighborhood she grew up in, known as Jonesville, was removed during the 1960s as Western Kentucky University expanded its campus. Residents of the Jonesville community lost homes and properties where their families had lived for generations. As she collected her own family stories, Ray realized there were many more stories to preserve if the artistic lives and cultural expressions of Jonesville were to be remembered and honored.

In the late 1990s, Ray enrolled as a graduate student in Folk Studies at Western Kentucky University. She partnered with the Kentucky Folklife Program to present an area at the Kentucky Folklife Festival in Frankfort dedicated to the folklife of Jonesville and Shake Rag, two forcibly displaced Black communities in Bowling Green’s history which many still remembered. She coordinated artists to create memory images and hosted narrative stages to share memories of everyday life and artistic expression in these communities.

Shortly after earning her master’s degree in Folk Studies, Ray completed the Kentucky Folklife Program’s Community Scholar training and became an active leader within that statewide network, as well. Over the years, she has encouraged many other Black community members in Bowling Green and other places in the region to take the training and collect and conserve their family and neighborhood folklore.

Ray’s work as a folklorist and community scholar have resulted in a highway marker commemorating Jonesville. She also helped found the Bowling Green African American Museum, which recently joined with the Kentucky Museum to create an exhibit that includes art installations telling the stories of Jonesville.

What does this distinction mean to you?

I'm honored and humbled to know that my work is recognized by my community as well as those outside of my community.

You are a trained Kentucky Arts Council Community Scholar. How do you apply those Community Scholars lessons to the community history work you are doing in Bowling Green?

The training has helped me go into communities and help others at least start the conversation about documenting their communities. It helps when others realize why documentation is important.

How important is it to know about an area or neighborhood's history, and why?

The history of a neighborhood or an area is vital to the knowledge of the past, present and future of how we got here today. Cities, towns and general areas change often in the name of growth. If you don't know the history of a neighborhood, you won't understand how the present got here or the “why” when the future makes a change.