RELIGION Tonsorial Artistry: Black Barbers Tell Their Story

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Tonsorial Artistry: Black Barbers Tell Their Story
Religion Editor
When Texas politicians decided in the 1920s that the state’s barbers needed
licensing, they came up with a series of required classes for future “tonsorial artists.”
African-American citizens, as often happened elsewhere in America, were denied
The segregated and set-apart community
had to figure its way around, over or
under the state-mandated program so its
members could survive by starting small
businesses or employed in existing
beauty and barber shops.
Tyler led the way for many of the
nation’s segregated population in a
program beginning here and spreading
to Houston, Dallas, Chicago and New
York City. It was the Tyler Barber
College started in 1929 by Henry M.
Morgan at 212 E. Erwin St. The college was located a couple of blocks from the
present offices of the Tyler Morning Telegraph and around the corner from the T.B.
Butler Fountain Plaza, where the county Courthouse stands.
Students from across the nation came to live in male and female dormitories at the
college, reads a marker placed at the site by the Tyler Historical Society in 2002. A
small museum exists where the college, now a chapter in Tyler’s history, once stood.
Morgan also founded the Texas Association of Tonsorial Artists that still exits. The
association’s presidents have come from Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio, among
other cities.
Morgan’s school evaporated during the integration era of the 1960s as all-black
institutions were thought to be unnecessary. But the college and its visionary,
innovative leader who conceived created and catapulted the dream to a reality —
changing countless lives in the process — has not been forgotten. A walk-a-thon from
St. Mary Baptist Church to the museum will be sponsored on Monday by the H.M
Morgan Landmark Committee. Proceeds benefit the museum that honors the
memory of the once-thriving college, he said, and the legacy of today’s barbers.
ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY: Andre Crawford, owner of
One stop Barbershop shaves 6-year-old Colin Jones on
Thursday. Crawford has become a mentor to other young
barbers so they can learn the nuances of the business.
He loves all of the photographs of the children whose hair
he has cut and watched them to grow up.
((Staff Photo By Jaime R. Carrero))
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AND LOVING IT: Adrian Golden loved the interaction while cutting hair for friends while attending
Sulphur Springs High School, but didn’t think there was a future in it. “I was really praying for a job,” he
said, “and a friend encouraged me to go to barber school. I went and I’ve never looked back.”
Barbering changed the lives of “many, many African-Americans,” said Andre
Crawford, 31, owner of One Stop.
“There are African-American barbers in Tyler who’ve worked for 40 or 50 years,” he
said during a brief lunch break at the busy One Stop on Thursday. “These are men
and women who have been my mentors and counselors, telling me how to stand on
my feet all day and last for 50 years. Without their advice, I never would have
survived. To tell you the truth, it was tough starting out. When we did start, there
were days I only had one customer. It was difficult to get a loan because no one
believed in me.”
They probably would believe in him now. His perseverance, faith in God and advice
from those who’d gone before him, he said, have created a steady flow of business
that keeps One Stop open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturday
starting at 6 a.m. He employs five barbers to help him keep the haircut jobs
up-to-date and the crowds coming.
The overall feel of the shop, located across from Fun Forest Park, is safe, like a
family reunion where folks come to chat, put up their feet and stay a spell. A copy of
a Norman Rockwell painting depicting a child getting a haircut is on the wall next to
a certificate from The University of Texas at Tyler’s Minority Business Advancement
Of all the things on the shop’s wall, Crawford said it’s the photos of children he likes
“The pictures of all the little kids that come through the shop, and then looking at
them as they grow are my favorites,” he said.
A sign near the bottom of the front door says, “Children over the age of 3 who refuse
to get a haircut will be charged $10.” That’s a ploy, he said.
“That’s just to get inside their heads and let them know they’re expected to get their
hair cut,” he smiled. “If that doesn’t work,” he said, pointing to a large jar of
lollipops, “a treat usually does the trick. No child has ever refused a haircut.”
And it’s not only children who find One Stop conducive to a cooperative atmosphere,
said barber college graduate Adrian Golden. A native of Sulphur Springs, Golden has
been employed at One Stop for eight months.
“This man (Crawford) is a leader, he’s my mentor,” said Golden. “We all owe a lot to
him because he not only gave us a job, but he shows all of us how to work with
Working with integrity and being involved in the community is what good barbering
is all about, said Crawford. One Stop also sells bottles of water for a buck and uses
the proceeds for journalism scholarships given to students graduating from John
Tyler High School.
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“I chose journalism because we can’t all be star athletes,” Crawford said, who is
devoted Los Angeles Lakers fan. “There is always someone who will jump higher or
run faster than most of us. There are other areas to succeed in besides sports.
Encouraging others in the community is part of the job.”
“I love to talk to people and do something that makes them feel good,” said Golden.
“People come in and go away smiling. It’s perfect.”
One-Stop’s area of influence can’t be measured in miles, Crawford said.
“We have people drive 50 miles to come here for a haircut,” he said. “It is amazing,
when you think about it.”
One Stop also distributes tickets for community events. Flyers for “Gospel Explosion
2008,” featuring the black-female group Trin-I-Tee 5:7, the East Texas Youth Choir,
Booker T, Monnie Pilgrim, The Celestial Singers, Deborah Hammonds, George Faber
and the Rev. Marcus Johnson sit by the front door.
The flyer proclaims, “It’s for the kids!” Crawford nods in agreement.
“It’s all about community,” he said again.
Billy Cross, proprietor of the People’s Barber Shop on Erwin St. located next door to
the museum, agrees. After 41 years of barbering in Tyler, he’s seen too many social
changes to sum up easily
“Barbering was a way back then for black folks to survive,” he said between
customers. “Being able to survive is what its all about, yes sir. And to do that, you
need faith in God and good people. It says in the Bible in Matthew that “with God, all
things are possible” (Matt: 19:28) and God will always guide you, yes he will.”
Cross, 61, has attended the Starrville Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in
Winona since he was a child. He serves as chairman of the steward board at the
church and is on the trustee board. He was featured by Tyler’s Ebony Journal in
2005 as an outstanding citizen.
“The problem today is that people have more, but so many have a closed hand,” he
said. “I don’t have a lot of money, and I don’t want a lot of money. God provides and
gives me what I need.”
As a teenager he wanted to be a barber, he laughed, primarily “because I didn’t like
the haircuts they gave back then. Those chili-bowl haircuts, no sir.”
Cross met Henry Miller Morgan a few years before he enrolled in the Tyler Barber
College. He took all-day Saturday classes at the college while working at Coca-Cola
in Tyler during the week. Retiring in 2005, he went to barbering full time. He turns
out the mirror lights between customers, sitting in a barber chair in semi-darkness,
waiting for them to come. Most of the shop’s light comes in through the large front
“About 20 came today, so far,” he said, looking at the wall clock that says 4:35 p.m.
“Some days 35 to 40 come in.”
And like One Stop, some customers come from far away, he said.
“One regular customer comes from Frankston,” he said. “People are loyal.”
Katherine, who’d rather not give her last name, comes into People’s for a trim and
Cross snaps on the lights. The two chat amiably about the old days, favorite movies
they both saw at Tyler’s black-only theatre on Spring Avenue years ago, a little
politics, and catch up on what’s going on.
The social atmosphere in the barber shop is part of the draw, said Cross, Katherine
leaves and “Doc” walks in. The atmosphere at People’s is more reflective than the
hopping One Stop. Both shops seem familiar as family in different ways, on younger
the other older.
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At One Stop, a laughing Crawford pulls out a hat that says “Celtics are No. 1” on it.
“See that man over there,” motioning to a smiling face waiting his turn. “Because of
him, I have to wear this hat for a month because the Lakers lost the finals. Today,”
he said breaking out in a big smile, “is the last day.”
Thinking about the key components of his success, Crawford summed up.
“This is all about God,” he said “by far. God’s in everything — and community. This
barber shop, it’s not about the money, even though we need the money to keep
going. None of us would be anything without community. We wouldn’t be here at
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