The popularity of a recent movie Barbershop has focused the public's attention on that central gathering place for black men, the local barbershop. Marberry gathers stories from across the country, from Detroit to Orlando, Brooklyn to Houston, in an oral history that covers every aspect of community life.
Complete with black-and-white photographs, this small gem captures the wit and wisdom of barbers and their patrons, including a select few women barbers who wield their scissors on this sacred turf. Albert Ghee, Jr., a customer, talks about Shorty, a midget with a shoeshine stand who worked in the back of his uncle's barbershop in Farmville, Virginia. If you gave Shorty an extra dollar, he'd thump out tunes with his rag as he polished your shoes, "The Star Spangled Banner" or "Amazing Grace."
A barber who enjoys the lighthearted camaraderie in the shop, Omar Rasul is always up for a few laughs. He considers it good therapy, favoring "cut down" sessions, where "you target a person's flaw and roll with it. It's all about making people bust out laughing." In contrast, customer Reverend John C. McClurkin likens the barbershop to the dinner table, a forum for family members to share stories and fellowship. The shop enjoys a similar dynamic, "except nobody's trying to hide their vegetables."
Wheeler Parker, a barbershop owner, has a cautionary tale to share, a hard lesson forced upon black people in his day, when white men terrorized innocents in the middle of the night, threatening destruction and death. Parker wants a better future for the younger generation after all the suffering and lost opportunities of his youth. He urges everyone to remember his cousin's name, Emmett Till. "He had a short life. Fourteen years. But if we remember, then it wasn't a wasted life."
The only other woman besides Clara Poke and forty men in barber school, Betty Reece was so painfully shy that one of her instructors suggested she was "so slow, she would miss the boat and the bus." Betty never overcame her shyness, waiting all day for a customer, lacking the charisma to attract regular clients. Often she never got a single customer: "Felt like I was watching hair grow." Betty finally quit the barbering business but still has her license and may go back to barbering one day.
There are a few barbershop rules of etiquette: "comments must both entertain and enlighten, proverbs need punch lines and comedy needs a dose of the profound." In all, this thoughtful and humorous collection peeks into the rarified world of the black barbershop, still as popular today as when it first opened. Even now, there's a sound you can hear above the clip and buzz of scissors and clippers: "It's the easy hum of men among men."