Throughout United States history, barbershops have served both as a gathering place and as a tool of economic development for Black communities. Left of Black guest Dr. Quincy Mills discusses the ways that Black barbers’ roles within communities have changed over the nineteenth and twentieth century. During slavery and immediately following emancipation, many Black barbers served primarily wealthy, white clients. The economic gains from serving these clients allowed barbers to create other businesses to serve the Black community.
Moving into the twentieth century, the Black barbershop became more of the space it is considered today: both a community resource and a place where community can develop. During the Great Migration, Black Americans moving into new cities often relied on their barbers to help them navigate the new worlds around them.
Use the map below to explore the Black Wall Street locations in Durham, North Carolina that a barber would have sent a new resident to in the early 20th century.
This video is an excerpt from a larger conversation with Professor Quincy T. Mills, author of Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America (University of Pennsylvania Press). Mills, a Professor of History at Vassar College, reveals the unique role that Black barbers have played in the cultural, economic and political life of Blacks since Slavery. The full conversation can be viewed below.
- http://taperedthrone.com/ – Photo project depicting Black barbers in Oakland
- Photo essay: “The power and politics of the Black barbershop”
- Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps
- Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America, by episode guest Quincy T. Mills
- “The History of Black Hair” – YouTube video
- Left of Black Enrichment’s lesson plan on Black barbershops as a cultural space