February marks one of the most important, both cultural and historical, and significant months of the year– Black History Month.
Best defined, Black History Month is a yearly recognition and celebration of the achievements accomplished by Black Americans and their integral and central role in U.S. history. This celebration has grown over the years. Initially recognized as "Negro History Week," Black History Month has evolved over the decades, recognized by each and every president since 1976.
Black History Month isn't just an American celebration anymore, either. Countries like Canada and the United Kingdom also have designated their own months for the celebration and recognition of Black History.
The contributions and influences the Black community has had on America are too substantial and varied to detail every facet. That said, the Black community has dramatically impacted and shaped something very near and dear to our hearts here at NAOB–the barbershop.
In this blog, we'll explore the historical context of Black barbershops, discuss the significance of these shops on barbering as a whole, and share the wide scope of influence Black barbershops have had on the barbering community.
The Significance of Barbershops in Black Communities: A Celebration of Black History Month
A Historical Overview of Black Barbershops
To understand the impact Black barbershops have had on the United States and the barbering community alike, it's important to first glance backward to understand the history of Black barbershops.
It's tough to put a hard date on the inception of Black barbershops, but it's believed that sometime in the 19th century, Black barbers were first introduced to America.
The inception of Black-run barbershops was hardly a happy tale at this time. Because Black barbers were inhumanely and unjustly enslaved, they began working in local establishments as "leased property."
These Black barbers specialized in the grooming and care of white men, as Black men and women were not permitted inside these shops unless they were working.
When slavery did eventually fall, Black barbers continued to cater to white men as an economic necessity. It would take years post-slavery for Black-owned shops to cater predominantly to Black people.
Two things soon happened that changed the course of Black barbershops. First, around the mid-1860s (1863 to be exact), Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. Shortly after that, many states transitioned their laws to require formal training to run barbershops.
Black barbers slowly began opening their shop doors directly in Black communities, creating a space for and by Black men.
In 1934, Henry M. Morgan created the Tyler Barber College, a school for Black men seeking barbering training. Black barbershops have become more than spots for premium grooming services; they've become cultural meccas, gathering places, and community hubs.
At all points in time, Black barbershops were a place for the Black community to gather, share ideas, discuss societal reform, plan strategy, promote unity, and find comradery during times they needed it most.
Black Barbershops Have a Significant Impact on Black Communities: Here's Why
Stellar Examples of Black Success
Black Americans have contributed to and elevated almost every single industry that exists in America. That said, Black impact on the barbershop industry has been substantial, overtly obvious, and impossible to deny. Since the inception of The Tyler Barber College, Black barbers have dominated the barbering industry, showcasing their talent, building successful businesses, and lead
Cultural Gathering Places
Black barbershops were in the past–and continue to be–community havens. Acting as cultural meccas, barbershops have always been a symbol in Black communities of safety, comraderie, and influence. In the past, Black barbershops were a place where the community could hear important information quickly–about health, about local government, about federal changes. Now, barbershops continue to offer that same "heard through the grapevine" communication that ensures the community is informed.
Confidants & Counselors
Black barbershops often act as an informal method of therapy for Black men in their communities. Many articles cite the concept of barber's chairs being a more welcoming, less fearful space for Black men to open up, seek counsel, and ask for advice than a therapist's chair.
Social Function Opportunities
Black communities continue to rely on barbershops as a safe space for social encounters, function opportunities, and a mecca for their community. Historically, Black barbershops encouraged healthy and open dialogue, safe debate, and social chatter. To this day, many communities continue to count on their local barbershop to provide this same platform.