Black Barbershops and the Civil Rights Movement

Friday, January 31, 2014

Historian Quincy T. Mills chronicles the cultural history of black barbershops as businesses and civic institutions. He talks about how barbers played a significant though complicated role in 20th-century racial politics. His book Cutting Along the Color Line: Barbershops is a sweeping history of an iconic cultural establishment that shows how black entrepreneurship was linked to the struggle for equality.


Quincy T. Mills

Comments [8]

Quincy Mills from Poughkeepsie, NY

To Ralph: I'm not familiar with the barber schools in the Bowery. What period are you talking about? I would be surprised if these schools trained black barbers. My research on barber training in the North turned up separate schools for blacks and whites. In Cleveland, for example, black went to the segregated vocational school to learn barbering. Since schools were not integrated, I'd be surprised if these barber colleges in the Bowery were. Great question!

Feb. 07 2014 11:29 AM
Quincy Mills from Poughkeepsie, NY

To Sheldon from Brooklyn: Yes, Zariff still cuts President Obama's hair. As far as I can tell, black men were not denied licenses----not suggested it did not happen, simply saying I didn't come across any examples of it. But, when Richmond, VA passed an ordinance regulating barbers, the health officers-- charged with visiting barber shops to be sure they were sanitary--visiting black shops far more often than white shops. And, of course, you tend to find things where you look. More visits to white shops would likely have yielded similar violations. I don't think this was widespread though.

Feb. 07 2014 11:25 AM
Quincy Mills from Poughkeepsie, NY

To Amy from Manhattan: Good question. They would not have had separate hours or separate rooms largely because their white patrons would have disapproved. Yes, we are talking about a less-than-free market economy. Barbers believed they were targeting a niche market with money to spend. In the North, before the Civil War, there was a small black population. In the South, a majority of the black population was enslaved. After the Civil War, still small black population in north; and the war left all southerners strapped for cash. But, you're right, a small percentage of black barber shops could have done well with a black clientele during the 19th century.

Feb. 07 2014 11:19 AM
Quincy Mills from Poughkeepsie NY

To Jordan Mandel: Research is a bit more complicated than that, and indeed my own body is more complicated than that. More barbers were happy to participate in an interview than not--even with my dreadlocks. Most northern barbers had no issue. Importantly, had I cut my hair, I would not have gotten the kind of deep insight into how these particular men thought about their profession, the past, and indeed the present. Sometimes, many times, the questions are more important than the answers. In this case, the reasons a small percentage of southern barbers did not want to participate in an interview probably revealed more about them and how they saw their profession than an actual interview might have illuminated. Best

Feb. 07 2014 11:13 AM
Jordan Mandel from Singapore

I understand why the barbers would be annoyed with a guy with dreadlocks. If he wanted them to talk to him, he should have gotten a trim.

Feb. 01 2014 12:39 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Did any of the barbershops that didn't allow "colored" patrons have a separate room, or maybe separate hours for them? If nothing else, they were losing at least some income by turning these patrons away.

Jan. 31 2014 12:58 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Does President Obama still employ the barber he had in Chicago?

Has the licensing requirements of barbers ever historically been used to discriminate against black men?

Jan. 31 2014 12:54 PM

I understand that the Bowery once had a long row of Barber Schools with living quarters. Did they train black barbers or where black men banded from the Bowery?

Jan. 31 2014 12:51 PM

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