Enter February—a short month with a larger-than-life focus, Black History Month.
This month doesn’t just celebrate and document the achievements in Black history, it also stands as a fresh reminder that all of us should—now and always—take stock of Black history and the continued engagement of racism throughout history to give context for the present and change the future.
First and foremost, Black History Month is an opportunity—an opportunity to dive head-first into the achievements of Black people throughout history and highlight the successes of Black people past and present-day.
This month-long observance should just be the start—let this opportunity light a fire under you to learn even more about Black history and the impactful, resounding ways this history has changed the world for the better. At NAOB, we’re taking an approach that hits closest to home—a freewheeling chat about the history of Black barbershops.
Anyone who’s ever worked in, frequented, or stepped foot into a Black barbershop understands the experiential strengths and rich culture that’s interwoven—but ask yourself, do you know the history of how Black barbershops became what they are now?
Join us as we embark on a birds-eye-view timeline of the history of Black barbershops to provide historical context and celebrate the way Black barbershops changed the barbering game—and continue to do so.
A Brief History of Black Barbershops: A Glimpse Backward
Black barbershops are so much more than just skillful establishments where people—men and women alike—wander in to receive a haircut. Black barbershops have long been—and continue to be—central hubs of the Black community, places to congregate, connect, share, and overall, embrace a community.
But how did this Black barbershop culture get to this point, and further, where did it all begin? Keep reading for a look into the history of Black barbershops.
19th Century Barbershops: Industry-Changing Shops Arise
Though it’s hard to put an exact date on the first Black barbershops, it’s said that it was during the atrocities of slavery in the 19th century when Black barbers were first introduced to America. Because slaves were unjustly and inhumanely considered to be “property,” they were subject to the whim of their owners—one of those whims was being leased out to local establishments and neighbors that specialized in the grooming and barbering care of white men.
Even when Black-owned shops did eventually arise as slavery fell, these shops were still mostly catering to a white customer base. As such, it was difficult for a Black man to approach a Black barber to reap the benefits of their skills.
At the time, this was considered an economic necessity—catering mostly to white people. This, however, began to change as time went on.
Emancipation & The First Chains of Black Barbershops
Post-emancipation, Black barbers were now free to serve whoever they wanted—Black customers included. As a result, the floodgates for this profession opened wider than ever before.
What’s more, a pressing and influential change in requirement legislation changed after emancipation—state laws changed at this time, stating that being a barber was a profession that required formal training.
Seeing an opportunity for advancement, employment, and empowerment, Henry M. Morgan opened the first national chain of barber colleges in 1934—The Tyler Barber College.
These colleges and curriculums spread like wildfire—eventually, about 80 percent of Black barbers had the United States had been trained and shaped by the Tyler Barber College.
During this time—and certainly before—barbershops began becoming safe havens that were about more than just getting a haircut or a beard trim. These spaces were for the community, places where Black men and women could discuss social and societal reform, share ideas, and overall, find comradery and community in a time where it was needed most.
Black Barbershops Take the 20th Century By Storm
Though opportunity was what had the initial push toward barbering, wealth popped up as a primary motivator for the profession shortly after. Simply put, the opportunity for Black men running Black barbershops shifted to the chance for prosperity—and prosper Black barbershops did.
During the 20th century, the world saw one of the first Black millionaires, Alonzo Herndon, who kickstarted his empire with a single barbershop, and Willie Lee Morrows, a multimillionaire barber who was a pioneer in the Black hair care industry.
Barbershops remained the spots where societal change was catalyzed. Black barbershops were safe haven zones where Black liberation activists could gather and push forward change.
Another notable historical aside about Black barbershops? They played an immensely crucial role in the hip-hop scene at the beginning of the 1980s.
Modern-Day Barbershops & Their Massive Impact on the Industry
Much of barbershop culture now (Black-owned or not), like community, sharing, learning, comradery, etc., can point back to roots in Black barbershops. Their importance to Black history is massive, but their importance to the United States’ history, in general, is also critical.
Barbershops remain to be a safe haven—not unlike they were during times of slavery, war, economic issues, social shifts, and beyond. Today, Black barbershops thrive across the globe, and their impact on barbering, as a whole, continues to exude from the talented individuals who chose to become a part of this industry—then and now.
Have some additional insight we missed? We want to hear it! Drop a comment in the reply section below to share welcomed information about the history of Black barbershops and how they changed barbering forever.
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