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African-American Museum in Bowling Green moving closer to reopen

Wathetta Buford is the project manager of the African American Museum in Bowling Green.
Jacob Martin
/
Wathetta Buford is the project manager of the African American Museum in Bowling Green.

One year after being nearly destroyed by two disasters, The African American Museum of Bowling Green is one step closer to opening to the public.

The museum, dedicated to telling the history of African-Americans in Bowling Green, was nearly lost due to an electrical fire only weeks after a deadly tornado devastated the area.

“We’ve made slow progress, but it’s progress,” said Wathetta Buford, project manager of the African American Museum.

Nearly one year to the day of the anniversary of the tornado, ongoing repairs to the building the museum occupies were completed and plans to reassemble the museum can now begin.

In the wake of the fire, museum staff members were left scrambling to preserve the artifacts and find a proper storage facility for the relics, many of which are nearly 100 years old.

“Right after the fire, some of our community partners and board members worked together to save whatever artifacts they could save,” Buford said. “We all worked at WKU Supply Services to make sure those things that we saved were packed up right and then some of the things were stored at the Kentucky Museum, and I still have boxes out at the Corvette Museum.”

 The African-American Museum in Bowling Green is still rebuilding after a fire destroyed much of the building near the end of 2021.
Jacob Martin
/
The African-American Museum in Bowling Green is still rebuilding after a fire destroyed much of the building near the end of 2021.

Many documents are being held in a freezer at the Corvette Museum to help keep them preserved after sustaining water damage in the fire. The museum’s goal is to reorganize, curate, and bring back the surviving artifacts to the renovated space.

According to Buford, the museum would not be in the place it is now without the show of support from many local organizations and community members.

“We’ve had a lot of help from Western and a lot of people…we appreciate them,” Buford said.

Western Kentucky University, which owns the building the museum occupies, allowed temporary storage and working space for museum staff while more arrangements were taking place following the disasters. The university made repairs to the building at no cost to the museum and recently renewed the museum’s lease on the building through 2030.

According to Buford, the organization also received a $10,000 grant from the Rotary Club of Bowling Green which will be put toward alleviating the cost of restorations to the artifacts.

“People may say, ‘oh that's not much,” but it’s a whole lot,” Buford said. “It takes a lot of time to get everything like it should be and I’m still making sure the specifics of the grant are being met.”

Shortly after the fire, a GoFundMe page was set up on the museum's behalf and nearly $6,000 was raised to help with ongoing repairs to the building.

While no official date for the museum to reopen has been set, Buford said she is tentatively planning for spring as a goal for a partial opening.

“I’ve set a tentative date of April that we’ll at least have part of the exhibits ready and we can maybe have a ribbon cutting,” Buford said. “So I’d like to have some kind of celebration– that’s big for me.”

Jacob Martin