Officials, residents want to preserve ShakeRag history

Michelle Day

Among the scenery of the historic ShakeRag district, the clammer of houses being built resonates.

Families are sauntering into the soul food restaurant on the corner of Third and College streets, and little boys are dashing into the ShakeRag Barbershop to get designs cut into their hair.

Businesses in the ShakeRag Historic District are popular communal places for black residents who have lived in Bowling Green for years. And even with downtown development and construction projects, officials and residents want to preserve its history.

ShakeRag originated around the old Lee Square near the north end of State Street. The ShakeRag Historic District got its name from the image of families hanging their clothes to dry outside, according to the Bowling Green tourism Web site.

ShakeRag was once a safe haven for traveling and local blacks before integration.

The Southern Queen Hotel would house traveling blacks that couldn’t stay in Bowling Green’s white hotels, according to the tourism Web site. There was a “colored library” on State Street with about 3,500 books and a children’s room.

In 2001, Bowling Green started to renovate the downtown area, including the ShakeRag district, according to a pamphlet funded by the Bowling Green Enterprise Community.

Despite the construction, preserving history is what the ShakeRag district is about, according to the pamphlet.

The area is rich in history of African-Americans who have called Bowling Green home since the early 1800s, according to the tourism Web site. ShakeRag is the home to State Street Baptist Church, the George Washington Carver Center, ShakeRag Reed’s restaurant and the Southern Queen Hotel, to name a few of the landmarks.

“African-Americans started here,” Rev. Roger Reed, the reverend of State Street Baptist Church, said. “We were able to buy homes and businesses in this area.”

Reed said he likes to see students in the district even if they are unfamiliar with its significance.

“ShakeRag is a reminder of what was once the only option for blacks [to gather] in Bowling Green,” Reed said. “They were making history by just being here.”

More than 200 years later, the traditions of the area still stand.

The Reed family runs and operates the ShakeRag Reed’s restaurant that is the center of the ShakeRag district.

“The restaurant is the reminder of the history,” Bowling Green sophomore Jessica Blair said. “It’s a reminder of the history of the family and it being an all-black area.”

Blair said the names of the local businesses were changed in honor of the district becoming historic in 2001, and ShakeRag Barbershop was one of those.

Though the area has been promoted as a must-see for tourists, some students say they enjoy it for its back-at-home feeling.

“The shop has a great atmosphere,” Hopkinsville junior Michael Warren said. “The barbers all have different personalities and start talking about different things going on, just like family.”