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Chicago Barber Shop Talk in Middle America

Updated on December 27, 2014

Ordinary Black People Who Turned America Upside Down

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Coretta Scott KingRosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.Rosa ParksCarl Lewis
Coretta Scott King
Coretta Scott King
Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rosa Parks
Rosa Parks
Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis

History of A Little Boy

Have you ever been to a barbershop where the men wear white barbour jackets, and the words "Lordy, Lordy have mercy…," are easily heard, from the sidewalk outside? If you have not, I highly suggest that you do so, before the legends all die off. It is quite amazing, what the patrons of these men in white, are taught on a daily basis. There is nothing like real, American, historical stories, narrated by men, who witnessed so much history making in action. The men in white are an endless stream of historical references. Their firsthand accounts reflect history better, than the books contained within the Library of Congress. I believe the best education I have ever received, came right out of my Granddad’s business.

For it was within the walls of his shop, that I learned of Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, Moses Walker, Carl Lewis, Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Sometimes I would sit there at the shop, for what seemed like hours, waiting for somebody to pick me up. However, the hours turned into minutes, when Mr. Glen a barber, was working at the shop. It was because of Mr. Glen, that I received an A on my report card once. He had his own, personal version of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, "I had Dream.” Although his memorized version, was a whole lot different than the one taught in my high school, Minorities class. When I had to write a final essay paper for the class, it was Mr. Glen’s vivid recollection that I wrote about, and eventually received an A for the class. It also was that same paper, which secure my future with the great Brown University, and got me a scholarship from the NAACP. My most beloved line from Mr. Glen’s recollection was;

"Lord Almighty, we'd be free at last.”

“Lord Almighty,” he would say, stepping back a bit and chuckling to himself. Then as he would step back up to the chair he'd say,

“We’d be free at last.”

Mr. Glen has been dead for quite sometime now. He died sometime in the '90s. Nevertheless, I can still recant the message of peace I learned from Mr. Glen, now that I am a grown man, out of college.

It was from the likes of my granddad and Mr. Glen, that I learned to watch my manners, be respectful to all humanity, and more importantly, to be proud of the color of my skin. Over the hum of the electric razors, I also learned about sex and women; and the difference between some women, and other women like my momma, Mrs. Glen and my grams. I learned how to play dice, and how to cheat too. Which eventually cost me a spanking more than once or twice. My moms did not like dice much, and she definitely did not appreciate complaints, when it involved playground activities at my elementary school or in class.

I flew home to Chicago, in hopes of hearing Obama's acceptance speech. Seeing how I am a racially-mixed man, I wanted to see for myself, the likes of Jesse Jackson crying on the super screen. However, I decided not to go, when I stopped to visit my dad first. My granddad’s old barbershop was bristling in the goodness of hope. It was already jammed packed by noon, with everybody inside celebrating life’s simple freedoms. Before the pending announcement, of Obama’s presidency, I think more than half the blacks living in my old neighborhood, were in my dad’s newly refurbish, barbershop that day. As the roar of the crowd, became overwhelming in the shop; I noticed my moms and dad crying, as they fiddle with the shop’s old, VCR video-recorder. Therefore, I quickly ran over to my overjoyed, loving, parents to tape Obama’s speech, for my granddad to see.

With the airs of hope and laughter still reeling from the night before, the next day I skipped on over to my granddad’s house, to watch Obama’s speech with him. When granddad answered his door, he was in the middle of eating a liverwurst sandwich. I could smell it on his breath. I looked around the living room, and took my place on his dusty, old, green couch. I was glad to see nothing had changed. His home is the same old house I grew up with. It still has the hideous brown paneling walls, and accented with a green and yellow vinyl tile floor. Even though nothing has probably changed since my moms was a teenager, right above my grams old mustard-colored chair, hangs a framed black and white photograph, of my mentor Mr. Glen. Family and friendship is a beautiful thing.

August 28, 1963

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I Have A Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must ever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.


I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. And this will be the day, this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning, "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!" And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

  • And so let freedom ring -- from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
  • Let freedom ring -- from the mighty mountains of New York.
  • Let freedom ring -- from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
  • Let freedom ring -- from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
  • Let freedom ring -- from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that.

  • Let freedom ring -- from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
  • Let freedom ring -- from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
  • Let freedom ring -- from every hill and molehill of Mississippi, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And when this happens,

  • when we allow freedom to ring,
  • when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city,
  • we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children,
  • black men and white men,
  • Jews and Gentiles,
  • Protestants and Catholics,

Will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual,

"Free at last, free at last. Thank GODAlmighty, we are free at last."


Submit a Comment

  • Mr.Murph profile image


    9 years ago from Sunny,florida

    This is true brah the barbershop was a great gathering place,especially in the black culture.Yep i have a lot of good memories at the old shop,to me that place is sacred ground.

  • RKHenry profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

    Thanks for stopping by Captain. I really enjoyed your hub! Everyone, check The Captain out, the next time you're in the market for a really fun read!!

  • The Captain profile image

    The Captain 

    9 years ago from The Carribean

    I miss the old time barbers and their shops, where they'd put the warm shaving cream on the back of your neck to shave the hairs there, and then the powder from a brush and a splash of lilac water. Thanks for a great remembrance and a great hub.

  • RKHenry profile imageAUTHOR


    9 years ago from Neighborhood museum in Somewhere, USA

    Hi ontheway! Thanks for checking out my hub.

  • ontheway profile image


    9 years ago

    Barber Shop Talk

    it Was very well written, I support you, welcome to my hub


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