The Kentucky Folklife Program has been awarded the 2023 Kentucky History Award for their work on the What Happened to Jonesville? exhibition. The exhibition explores the history of Jonesville, a vibrant African American community in Bowling Green that was demolished in 1963 during an “urban renewal” campaign. The project involved a partnership between the Kentucky Folklife Program, Kentucky Museum, African American Museum of Bowling Green, WKU Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology, and Kentucky Arts Council. The exhibition was created through the Community Scholars program, which trained researchers to conduct fieldwork research and oral history interviews with former residents of Jonesville and their descendants. The exhibition appeared in poster format at the Kentucky Museum during WKU’s Homecoming in 2022 and has since been made available in various formats.
In light of the recent report by WKU News, the Kentucky Folklife Program has received a prestigious award for their work on the What Happened to Jonesville? exhibition. The 2023 Kentucky History Award was presented by the Kentucky Historical Society (KHS) in recognition of the program’s outstanding achievement in promoting the value of Kentucky history through awareness, preservation, and appreciation of state and local history.
The Kentucky History Award is presented each year for exhibitions that demonstrate their significance in four categories: Value, Rigor, Relevance, and Accessibility. The What Happened to Jonesville? exhibition clearly met all four criteria, making a significant contribution to Kentucky and local history, ensuring content was accurate and balanced, being meaningful and accessible to its audience, and promoting availability and ease of use.
The exhibition explores the history of Jonesville, a vibrant African American community in Bowling Green. Jonesville was home to many families who worked, attended school, and worshipped at church, living as a community. At its height, Jonesville had 85 houses. However, in 1963, the City of Bowling Green directed a campaign of “urban renewal” that demolished Jonesville and removed its people. The land was sold to WKU, and although the buildings are gone and many residents have passed on, Jonesville’s stories live on through former residents and their descendants.
What Happened to Jonesville? is the result of a partnership between several organizations, including the Kentucky Folklife Program, Kentucky Museum, African American Museum of Bowling Green, WKU Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology, and Kentucky Arts Council. The project began in the summer of 2022, when seven Southcentral Kentucky residents explored the history and story of Jonesville through the Community Scholars program, a statewide training program for documenting traditional arts and culture.
Guided by the Kentucky Folklife Program and Kentucky Arts Council, this group of researchers explored how to conduct fieldwork research and applied their training to conduct oral history interviews with former residents of Jonesville and their descendants, creating the interpretive exhibit. The exhibition appeared in poster format at the Kentucky Museum during WKU’s Homecoming in 2022 and remained on view until early 2023.
In addition to the poster exhibition, a traveling pop-up version, a virtual exhibit, and an exhibition catalog have been created to ensure the exhibition’s accessibility to as many people as possible. The catalog includes essays on the history of Jonesville, the process of creating the exhibition, and transcripts of the oral history interviews conducted by the Community Scholars.
The Kentucky Folklife Program’s work on the What Happened to Jonesville? exhibition serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving and sharing the stories of communities that have been erased or forgotten. Through their dedication and hard work, the program has created a moving tribute to the people of Jonesville and their enduring legacy. The award from the Kentucky Historical Society is a well-deserved recognition of the program’s achievement and the importance of their work in promoting the value of Kentucky history.