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Profs & Pints DC: Black Barber Shops—a Social History
May 3 @ 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm EDT$2 – $12.
Profs and Pints DC presents: “Black Barber Shops—a Social History,” an exploration of the shifting and vital roles such institutions have played in American civil society, with Quincy T. Mills, associate professor of History at the University of Maryland and author of Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America.
Before Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets, people stopped by the local barber shop to hear the latest news and spend idle time (while also, of course, getting a trim). Black barbers, especially, have long had a reputation for understanding the importance of having a community congregate around the shop. But this isn’t the whole story.
Come learn the fascinating story of such institutions from Dr. Quincy Mills, teaches about such subjects as a historian affiliated with the African American Studies Department at the University of Maryland at College Park, and who has meticulously combed through historical records on black barber shops in researching his book Cutting Along the Color Line.
You’ll learn how black barber shops were not always bustling democratic spaces within Black communities, but instead started out as, essentially, private clubs for the white elite. In the 19th century, black barbers welcomed wealthy white businessmen and politicians inside their shops, and those white patrons insisted that black customers be denied entry. Black barbers stroking a sharp straight razor across white men’s faces were arresting but common scenes across America’s downtown business districts.
When Black consumers began to congregate in Black barber shops in the late 19th and early 20th century, they upended notions of leisure as unproductive use of time, transformed service work from a state of dependent to independent labor, and shined a light on the value of communal engagement.
In the end, barbers realized that much could be gained, as a business and a public space, from allowing people to hang around and talk, even if they did not spend a dime. The making of the modern Black barber shop is a story of the making of democracy.
Professor Mills will walk you through this hairy history with razor-sharp analysis. You may never look at a barber shop the same. (Advance tickets: $12. Doors: $15, or $13 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later. Please allow yourself time to place any orders and get seated and settled in. Please bring proof of vaccination as it may be required in response to local infection rates.)
Event image from a 1994 Martha Cooper photograph of a scene at McDowell’s Barber Shop in Patterson, N.J. (Library of Congress.)