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|Hair care establishments are often considered the foundation
of African American business and in the town of Macomb, Illinois this was
literally the truth. After the Civil War, in 1865, many African Americans
settled in areas of West Central Illinois. Soon the town of Macomb,
welcomed its first black business establishment, the Ball & Field barber
shop. During this period of time (1860s & 1870s) known as Reconstruction
there were few were black heads in Macomb, hence it is safe to assume that
the two black barbers serviced a largely white clientele. (University
Library, Western Illinois University)
Lennis Washington's son, home from college, was visiting his mother's beauty salon. The date was March 27, 1975. While at the salon he was approached by a woman who was known to have the gift of prophecy. She explained to the young man, "You're going to speak to millions of people. You're going to do great things." The next fall Lennis Washington's son, Denzel, began acting.
A young barber school graduate with silky smooth hair plied his trade for years as a hairstylist in Detroit. He contemplated opening a shop in partnership with his brother but this dream was interrupted when he received a break in the music business. Keith Washington is now known the world over for his silky smooth soul ballads.
In 1954, with $250.00 borrowed as a "vacation" loan from a finance company, George E. Johnson established Johnson Products. With the help of his wife, Joan Henderson Johnson, George Johnson began manufacturing the company's first hair care product, Ultra Wave hair straightener for men. Other Johnson projucts include Afro Sheen, Gentle Treatment, Ultra Sheen, Ultra Star, Classy Curl, Ultra Sheen Supreme, Soft Touch, Sta-Sof-Fro, Ultra Sheen's Precise and Bantu. Also in 1971, with "Soul Train", Johnson Products became the first Black advertiser to sponsor a nationally syndicated TV show.
Rosa Parks, mother of the American civil rights movement, married barber Raymond Parks on December 18, 1932. Raymond was self educated; yet, his thorough knowledge of domestic affairs and current events led most people to believe that he had gone to college. He died in 1977.
Sarah Breedlove, who was born into slavery, was the first African American woman to earn a million dollars. She was also the first woman in America to earn rather than inherit her millions. She made her money by selling hair products. Today her company is still in business. As a child Sarah was freed by passage of the emancipation proclamation and as an adult changed her name to Madame C.J. Walker.
Alonzo Herndon was born into slavery in Atlanta but became one of the South's first African American millionaires. Trained as a barber, Herndon ran a large shop catering to white business and political leaders. Ironically, neither Herndon nor any of his nearly two dozen barbers could have their hair cut in the barbershop due to segregation. Herndon later became a prominent property investor before founding what was to become the largest black-owned insurance company - Atlanta Life. (Sky Magazine, June 1996)
Cornelia Preston began doing hair in New Orleans at the age of 18. She now plies her trade in the city of Pascagoula, MS and at the age of 93 is the oldest licensed beautician in the state. She also served for ten years as president of the Jackson County Barbers and Beauticians Association. (Re: JET May 26, 1997)
Dana Elaine Owens lived with her mother and brother in an apartment in East Orange, NJ. The apartment was situated above the Modern Era Barbers barbershop. As a teen Dana became a rapper and then an actress performing under the stage name of Queen Latifah.
In 1971, Barber Willa Turk, owner of Turk's Sportsmen Barbershop - Gary IN, hired 14 year old Tom Smith (alias Cleophus "Clee" Simmons) to sweep floors, clean ashtrays, windows and mirrors. Clee earned a prideful $2.75 per week along with a wealth of knowledge and experience. The rich environment of Turk's Sportmen Barbershop serves as the inspiration for the fictional internet entity, Clee Simmons' Barbershop". Additionally, it is no coincidence that Clee's partner at the barber shop is named Turk Willis.
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