A Birmingham barbershop–Where men spew hate

Chervis Isom (Photo by Hugh Hunter)

Today’s guest columnist is Chervis Isom.

As a young boy I always enjoyed my visits to the Johnson barbershop on 12th Avenue North in the Norwood neighborhood of Birmingham.

I liked the place because it was a man’s world where men talked about men stuff—sports and politics—and there were no women around to hold them accountable.

But as I grew older, a teenager, I began to hate the barber shop for the same reason – some men preached their racism. and no one objected.

Women never came into the shop except to drop off a child.  A mother might dash in to tell Mr. Johnson how to cut the boy’s hair and to pay him, and then out the door she’d go.

The barbershop was there long before my time and was not to close for some years after I’d left Norwood for college and then my adult life. I assume the shop eventually closed as a consequence of white flight from our neighborhood following the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, released on May 17, 1954, when I was fifteen.  That case held unconstitutional the principle of separate but equal school facilities for Blacks and whites on the basis that separate facilities would be inherently unequal.

The prospect of the integrated classroom frightened whites who began in the late ‘50s and ‘60s to abandon urban neighborhoods like Norwood. White flight was facilitated by the condemnation within urban neighborhoods, mostly Black neighborhoods, for the interstate highway system, disrupting thousands of Black families who began moving into the formerly white neighborhoods, thereby exacerbating white flight.

As I recall, the shop contained two barber chairs. Mr. Johnson was a talker. There were four or five chairs for waiting customers, and in the back was a shoeshine stand occupied by a middle-aged black man whose name I’ve forgotten. I will call him Tom. I liked Tom because he was jovial.

Mr. Johnson and his customers would often tease Tom in a good-natured way. Tom’s response was always a good-natured, cackling laughter. As a child raised with attitudes shaped by concepts of the Jim Crow culture, I thought this represented the good relations between Blacks and whites produced by our culture. But then, as a blue-collar kid growing up in blue-collar surroundings, I had no access to any Black or how they might think about our Jim Crow culture that required absolute separation of the races.

We never had a maid in our home as many Southern whites experienced. Our culture was so separate there was no occasion in which I might learn about Black folk. It didn’t occur to me until much later that Tom may have resented the teasing and the requirement that he take it all with good-natured humor because that was his only defense.  It was as if Tom somehow understood Mark Twain’s maxim that “humanity has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.”

A barbershop is a great place for a young boy and an adolescent to learn about men. It’s a little microcosm of male society that can be viewed up close, where every stripe of man will occupy the chair sooner or later. I learned early that some men are jovial, some are bitter, some shared good advice and some spewed venom. A boy could watch the men and listen, could take it all in and then let it percolate in good time there in his brain and in his heart as he learned how to think and act like a man.

As a child, I enjoyed the barbershop, but as I became a teenager, I liked the place less and less until there came a time I dreaded to go. There were a number of reasons for my changing attitude.

First of all, my reason was purely personal. I was envious of those boys with the coolest flattops   you’ve ever seen. But Mr. Johnson could not do that for me. “It’s your hair, son. It’s as fine as baby hair. It won’t stand up for a flattop.”

Then, there was another reason. When I was a boy, my dad would pay for the haircut, but when I began delivering newspapers, I had my own spending money, and was expected to pay for my haircut. Back then, I was super frugal and liked to save the money I earned. It would take my buying and delivering about thirty newspapers to earn enough to pay for a haircut. No, thank you. Haircuts were unnecessary, since I couldn’t wear a flattop like other boys, and I became shaggy headed, finally going to the barbershop only after my mother’s prolonged nagging.

The real reason, however, the core reason, I didn’t like the barbershop as I got older was because it was, after all, a man’s world, the very thing that attracted me when I was a kid, where a man might say what was on his mind no matter how inappropriate his ideas might be.

Before the day that became known as Black Monday, the day the Supreme Court released the Brown opinion, the talk was mostly about sports and politics, the Korean War and the threat of Communism. It was clear from the Brown decision that the underpinnings of the entire concept of “separate but equal” had been kicked from beneath the Jim Crow laws, and everybody’s attention in the South turned to race.

The Blacks in Birmingham, fired up by the Brown decision and led by Fred Shuttlesworth, were talking of civil rights, while whites were agonizing over the fear of integration in the classrooms, and turned to “massive resistance” to the court-ordered integration of public schools. White Citizens Councils sprang up in cities across the South in 1955 in order to orchestrate the massive resistance.

The following year, the Interstate Commerce Commission used its nondiscrimination clause to prohibit required separate seating in buses and trains for travelers in interstate commerce.

My father, a Greyhound bus driver, brought home all his frustrations in enforcing the Alabama law requiring Blacks to be seated in the rear of the bus, and later in dealing with passengers traveling in interstate commerce who could not be told where to sit, while those intrastate passengers continued to be subject to the Jim Crow law, an impossible situation.

My father and I attended meetings of the White Citizens Council and listened to demagogues rave about massive resistance to court- ordered desegregation and a litany of conspiracies. One such conspiracy held that the entire civil rights movement was being orchestrated by Communists who were looking to create a race war in America and thereby make America vulnerable to the Soviet Union, which was propagating Communism around the globe.

Conspiracy theories abounded in the barber shop. Trojan horses set down in our country were occupied by one and then another of various perceived threats: Immigrants, Jews, Catholics, Negroes, and the civil rights movement.  But the main target was the civil rights movement and its threatened breakdown of the Southern culture and way of life, in which we were so separated from the Black race that there was absolutely no way to know them.  We could only fear them.

Mr. Johnson and some of his customers would discuss the latest outrage as if everyone had the same concerns. He and his customers would surmise about how far the federal government would go to push civil rights “down our throats”. There was some discussion about the prospect of being seated in a restaurant with your wife, and a Black couple would join you at your table and there would be nothing you could do to stop it. Such was the paranoia in Birmingham in those years.

Though I don’t recall the exact conversations that occurred in those days, I do remember the general tenor of those conversations and the way in which they impacted me. A conversation back then might have gone something like this:

Mr. Johnson, as he pins the robe around Mr. Smith’s neck: “Well, Mr. Smith, had a good week?”

Mr. Smith, as he pulls his arms under the robe: “Yeah, but all this civil rights business has me on edge. All these communist ideas about race mixin’ is gittin’ under my skin.”

Mr. Johnson, combing Mr. Smith’s thinning gray hair, judging how best to cut it: “ I understand. You been following that hullabaloo in Montgomery – that bus boycott caused by that colored woman, Rosa Parks?  And nobody’s ridin’ the bus anymore. Think they gonna break the bus company. They wanna sit anywhere in the bus they want –can you believe that?”

Mr. Smith, eyes closed: “Well, it’s more’n a boycott. They got a suit filed in Federal Court. And people are thinkin’ the stinkin’ Federal Courts will order the bus company to integrate, jus’ like they did with the schools. It ain’t right.”

Mr. Johnson, his arms extended as he makes his point, a comb in one hand, scissors in the other: “Yeah, you know, you give a n ***r an inch, he wants a mile.”

Mr. Smith, resignedly: “Mr. Johnson, have you thought about this, if the Federal Court can make our kids go to school with n***rs, they might tell you you gotta cut their hair?”

Mr. Johnson, pausing, then continuing with his clipping: “Hell, yeah, I’ve thought about it. And that’s when I’m shuttin’ ‘er down. I’ll hang it up, move back to the country where I come from.”

Mr. Smith, defiant: “Well, I’m not givin’ up. I’ve joined the White Citizens Council. We’re gonna fight back.”

Mr. Johnson, now clipping away, answered as if he were only mildly interested: “Well, good for you, Mr. Smith. I might join you there sometime.”

Mr. Smith, now cutting his eyes down to Tom, who was snapping his polishing cloth over Mr. Smith’s shoes: “What about you, Tom? Do you wanna sit by me on the bus? Do you wanna associate with white folks?”

Tom, ducking his head, polishing cloth hanging from one hand, the other turned palm up, his head bobbing: “Oh, nah suh, nah suh. I nevah wanted such a thing. Jus’ cain’t believe all what’s goin’ on.”  [Snaps his rag as loud as a pistol shot. Turns back to polishing Mr. Smith’s shoes.]

Mr. Smith, to the room: “See, not even the n***s want it. It’s the communists from up north causin’ all this fuss. They got our good colored folks all stirred up down here.”

I silently agreed with their fears and concerns. It was exactly what I’d been hearing at home from my bus driver father who was on the front lines of efforts to desegregate transportation on the highways. But to tell the truth, those conversations that occurred every time I went to the barbershop made me sick to my stomach, no matter how much I agreed with them, no matter that I too attended the White Citizens Council meetings and was carried away by the demagoguery.

As I listened to this tirade and others like it, I could think of nothing but poor Tom who sat in his shoeshine stand or at some customer’s foot, his face an impassive mask as if he were invisible, as if he could hear nothing.

How can it be, I wondered, that I, a mere teenager, feel the cruelty of this rant paraded before this poor innocent Black man trying to earn a living for his family, who can do nothing, can say nothing, and whose only defense is his humiliation.

How was it, I wondered, that I, who believed then in the Jim Crow culture, grieved alone for Tom’s humiliation when no one else seemed to notice or care. Did becoming an adult make a man immune to the feelings of others?   Was empathy something that would be squeezed out of a boy when he became a man, like acne. I believed I could not be squeezed that hard.

The barber shop — a man’s world where men would be men – was a place I came to despise as I traveled through my adolescent years. There were far too many men I observed in the barber chair who were not the kind of man I wanted to become.

Chervis Isom grew up in Birmingham and is a product of its public schools. He graduated from Birmingham-Southern College and Samford’s Cumberland School of Law. He is now retired from the practice of law after a long career. He is the author of The Newspaper Boy: Coming of Age in Birmingham, Alabama During the Civil Rights Era, in which he tells the story of his evolution from the Jim Crow culture.  His website is: www.thenewspaperboy.net.   

Click here to sign up for our newsletter.(Opt out at any time)

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

Invite David to speak to your group for free about a better Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

(Visited 9,605 times, 3 visits today)

38 thoughts on “A Birmingham barbershop–Where men spew hate”

  1. Wow thanks for that THE TRUTH!!!the sad thing is those conversations are still going on in homes all over America an the right is pushing it mainstream again un freedom like you it’s Politicians, Police,Teachers, Government Officials that still believe that they will lie to your face Capitol gets stromed we all see it an they lie its was a regular day SMDH!!!

    1. Aren’t there anymore RACIST LEFT??? everyone here tells stories of how they fought racism and over came it will some of you who still support it encourage it turn a blind eye to excsit??? State your case because it’s some still hold those beliefs to their very core make us understand the HATE!!!!!

  2. Good for you that you set your standards high. Good for all of us that generation is gone or almost gone with very little influence any more. I know of no one who has those values of that past generation. Time does heal. Good riddance to those of the “greatest generation”. According to you, they weren’t great, but evil.

    1. Mr. Hiestand, I appreciate your comments and I do agree with you that the generation of which I wrote [adults in the 1950s] are gone or almost gone, and their influence has mostly passed away relating to the kind of outward racism I described. I would never say good riddance to the “Greatest Generation” who battled the evil Nazi regime and beat them. The people of whom I wrote were not evil men; they were men of their time caught in the web of the Jim Crow culture. I’m sorry you misinterpreted my essay.

      1. Sir, I’ve lived in Birmingham all my life, I’m 72 and my dad died in August at 96! I witnessed so much hate from whites in this city! I don’t think I ever encountered anyone white growing up here that didn’t spew hate towards us. From the milkman to the Governor and all in between! The hate passed on is generational. The white flight continues even today so that hate is still here! Businesses continue to close in cities governed by African American Mayors and reopen in cities run by whites. Homes are being sold or abandoned by whites if a nonwhite buyer shows up. The hate continues because so many whites have been mislead about our culture. The criminal element is the worst, even inventing “black on black crime” to scare whites into moving! Until this country accepts the fact of slavery being the catalyst for hate, our country is doomed! We’ll never be one country under God!

      2. Thanks, Chervis. It very often takes a generation to change cultural items and atitudes because we do feel comfortable with things we learn early and grow up with as “norms”. Like the song in South Pacific. But it can be done and we have come a long way. Still things to address, but we are gaining on it.

      3. I agree that dismissing any human being as simply “evil” is a disservice to all and unfair. However, simply calling them “men of their time” is too easy as well. They made choices. They were willingly complicit in an evil system that privileged themselves, their bodies, their experiences, their dignity. It takes quite a bit of courage to choose the “high road”, the road less traveled in your group, to go against the norms of your time in the interest of more worthy ideals. These men may not have been evil, but in this sense at least, they certainly lacked the courage and honor to be labeled as “great”.

    2. That generation may be physically almost gone but many of their negative ideas and beliefs are alive and well. The hatred may not be as PUBLIC but it is still there. The ignorance and fear of the various cultures that make up the US hasn’t gone anywhere…just look at some of the events that have come to light over the past few years. We’ve all still got A LOT of SINCERE work to do.

  3. Interesting. I grew up in Charlotte. It desegregated its schools on September 4, 1957. My mom and dad ran their small wholesale drug/sundries business after I was born in 1948. I was raised by a Black housekeeper, Pearl, from birth until I was 12 years old. I never heard the “N” word in our house. From my beloved Pearl, I listened to her radio gospel and jazz all day long, listened to her wise counsel. I attended a 1960 Ray Charles concert in the Charlotte Coliseum with a handful of white friends. I actually preferred what they called “race” music.

    I never heard a racist comment in my barbershop on Charlotte’s Central Avenue. Yes, I did eventually did hear “stuff” from school friends, but never got into it. But Charlotte was not Birmingham. I went to UNC in 1966 and had a number of Black friends and dorm mates. When MLK was assassinated, a few of them would not speak to me because of what “my people” had done. It was a tough year.

    After I married I continued to stay in touch with Pearl and her family including visits to her home. I sent her financial assistance for 40 years as she never received retirement when working for my mom. My brother and I attended her funeral and spoke at her AME Church.

    I guess I am not the typical southern white boy, but I was enriched beyond belief from a view into Jim Crow that I knew was wrong. The issues Birmingham faced – and still faces – are beyond my understanding.

    1. Karl, thank you for your comments. Yes, Charlotte was very different from Birmingham. Our City did not develop as yours.
      Birmingham did not exist at the time of the Civil War. Industrialists from the North found all the ingredients for manufacturing iron here and established industries that needed labor. They recruited Blacks from South Alabama and whites from the hills of North Alabama who had never interacted with Blacks. And then came thousands of immigrants from Southern Europe to work in the mines or in industry. It was a volatile mix, and the industrialists played the groups against each other with an eye to the bottom line, and with no concern about the social consequences later. Yes, Birmingham was a tough city. But today, our main employment is healthcare. UAB is the largest employer. The biggest problem we have is the baggage from long ago that continues to burden our city. Birmingham today is a fine place to live, and our residents live in peace and harmony.

      1. Yes, I was raised in Charlotte, but I have lived in Homewood/Mountain Brook/now Shelby County since 1979, and in Mobile for five years prior to that. Birmingham has come a long way.

        I would discuss the Black, Jewish, Greek, Italian, etc. immigrants who helped built it, but that’s another topic.

        1. I would love to discuss with you the ethnic communities in Birmingham and how they helped to build our city. I grew up in a largely ethnic community and I have the greatest respect for those families who left Europe with nothing but a dream. Let’s do it. my email address is
          Would welcome a call. We can post our article on Comeback Town.

      2. This city is certainly different from the 1950s. However, I would not say that were are all living in a state of “peace and harmony”. There are two very distinct realities in Jefferson County. One is quite peaceful and harmonious, the other less so. The city of Birmingham, for example,
        has a poverty rate of between 25 and 29%, whereas the southern suburb with the HIGHEST poverty rate is Homewood at 7.5%. The vestiges and realities of historical and present-day racial segregation are still here. There cannot be peace and harmony until there is a facing of old and present truths, and until justice and equity, in this case economic justice, are the rule and not the exception.

    2. I grew up in working class Nashville in the 1960s and played with black and white kids on youth teams. Some of the old timers used the “N” word, but it was always “hushed” to members of my generation… and rightly so. Our church-going parents knew bigotry was a sin. While I was aware it existed, I never witnessed open, hostile hate toward one race from another. Nashville wasn’t particularly more enlightened than any other Southern city trying to improve and reckon with its history. And it did have its share of racial strife (desegregating restaurants in 1960, led by John Lewis was both peaceful and not). Maybe that’s what made Birmingham different from other places. Reading this article points out to me that Alabama’s citizens must have had (has?) their own unique brand of racial hate. The 1963 bombing is a truly disgraceful event stains the city to this day. I truly hope members of that generation have left this world for the far less pleasant one awaiting them. Stories like this one make it much easier to understand the animosity black people (especially in places like Birmingham) still hold toward white people.

      1. Thank you, Scott, for your note. Yes, I do think in the mid 20th Century, Birmingham was far more racist than Nashville. I grew up within the Jim Crow culture, and my memoir, “The Newspaper Boy: Coming of Age in Birmingham, Alabama During the Civil Rights Era,” deals with my slow evolution from that racism by virtue of a kind couple on my newspaper route. But please don’t let my article, which shows the way it was in historical Birmingham, confuse you about our present City. We have transformed our city from a steelmaking, industrial base to one of healthcare, UAB being our largest employer. There has been a radical change for the better in Birmingham during the last sixty-seventy years, yet I don’t deny that our history does make it easier to understand, as you wrote, the animosity some Blacks still hold toward white people.

  4. All too familiar, Chervis. And I was still hearing such things in Bessemer back in 2000 and beyond. I love your confronting the issue that still confounds so many of us. The Past isn’t so past/passed and its arms/tentacles are long. Thank you!

    1. It’s so good to hear from you, Terry. Racism back in the 1950s when we lived with Jim Crow laws and customs was brutal, but time in Birmingham have changed drastically. I’m not going to say racism is a thing of the past. But at least not many people are open about it, and I cannot imagine that a scene as I remember could occur today, thank God.

  5. I’ve lived here almost all my life. My parents are from elsewhere,Dad from up North and Mom from another state. So in reading this blog and the articles by Mr. Isom,Sher,Shevin and others gives me an insight and perspective as to why my parents called Birmingham a nasty city full of evil and nasty people. I guess I was somewhat insulated living in Mountain Brook and Huffman, from all the bad in this city. So I thank all of you for opening my eyes to just how bad Birmingham was and apparently still is. It has been informative and depressing at the same time.

    1. Delbert, I too have lived in Birmingham my entire life., though I grew up on Northside, in the community of Norwood. My father was a Greyhound Bus Driver and was on the front lines during the push for equality in transportation. I was not insulated from the reality of Jim Crow at work. In our City’s history, we did have some nasty people, the KKK and other such white supremacists, but we also had courageous people who worked hard to change the City Government from the Commission form [read Bull Connor] to the Mayor/ Council form of govenment, and the first act of the new Mayor/ Council in 1963 was to abolish the Jim Crow laws. This City has made a dramatic turnaround since then. We are no longer an industrial city but now our largest employer is UAB. I would never argue that all our problems are in the past, but I will say that we are a transformed city. So when you thank me for opening your eyes to how bad Birmingham was “and still is,” you have misread my essay. I was writing from my memories as a seventeen-year-old boy struggling with the culture in which I had been raised and beginning to question the legitimacy of the Jim Crow treatment of Blacks as second-class citizens. I did emerge from that culture, and I wrote a book about my adolescence and young manhood and my evolution from the Jim Crowe culture. It is an optimistic story, one in which my new customers from the North [like your parents] counseled with me over two years as I collected from them on Saturday mornings for the newspapers I delivered to them. I hope you will take the time to read my story. And I sincerely hope you will re-think your comment about Birmingham still being as bad as it was. That is simply untrue.

      The Newspaper Boy: Coming of Age in Birmingham, Alabama During the Civil Rights Era.


  6. Yes, I certainly rely on this column/forum to substantiate and encourage the belief that Birmingham was the one city in the nation with racism to this day. I would hope that David Sher continues to encourage and do all that he can to perpetuate the idea that there was no good here and that it has actually not changed at all while the rest of our country is a bastion of peace and love. Oh and of course only white people can be racist.
    Thanks, David, for keeping the drum rolling. Let’s get rid of all this progress of the past ten years or it will seem these people all looked the other way when it came to the same good people who tried to make things better. Yes, we have always had those people as well, but please don’t let that get out or we might be choked on progress.

    1. Richard, please consider reading the column I wrote three weeks ago titled, “Sick & tired of Birmingham being stereotyped as racist.” https://comebacktown.com/2021/11/16/sick-and-tired-of-birmingham-being-stereotyped-as-racist/. As I wrote in the column Birmingham was no better or worse than most any other Southern city. Birmingham has come a long way, but continues to carry the stigma unfairly. The objective of ComebackTown is to create a forum for discussion. I welcome your comments.

      1. I read it, as I used to read everything that came through this forum. Since it became dedicated to one subject basically I no longer look for it in my mail. Not unsubscribing but just waiting until perhaps someone discovers there are other subjects that are applicable even to Birmingham of all places.

    2. Richard, I thank you for reading my memoir of a time long ago in Birmingham’s history, back in the 1950s when I was seventeen and was beginning for the first time to question the legitimacy of the Jim Crow culture in which I’d been raised. I think the barbershop event I describe was one of the first times I really recognized that something was wrong with my culture. I did continue to question more and more aspects of that two-tier arrangement in which whites were cast as superior, and I gradually emerged from that culture in an evolution assisted by others, and described in my memoir, The Newspaper Boy: Coming of Age in Birmingham, Alabama During the Civil Rights Era. I hope you will read my book. It is optimistic about Birmingham, the place I’ve lived my entire life and my home.
      I believe that our City has its faults but no more than other cities. We have made transformative progress in the past fifty years. We’re no longer an industrial city with its smoke and grit, but now we might be described as a white -collar city, with UAB as our largest employer.
      David Sher through his Comeback Town has consistently been the one person beating the drum for Birmingham’s success for several years. I admire his column and regret that you think my essay has set the wrong tone. Let me assure you I’m optimistic for our City.

    3. Yes, David…as a heterosexual, White man from Birmingham…please continue to beat the drum call that demands we all move forward without actually dealing with the things that happen(ed) because it makes people too uncomfortable to actually look at it,tear it apart, make direct and meaningful amends and come clean in the hearts and lives of thise affected.

      An apology is more than a lukewarm acknowledgement of wrongdoing. An apology is not a refusal to discuss what actually happened. Believe it or not, Black people were not all singing “Dem Ole Cotton Fields” in unison while chained to one another picking tobacco. If we are ever to truly move forward from slavery, Jim Crow, etc., White people will need to find a way to be honest with themselves first and then be able to speak openly about those truths. I don’t see that hapoening as long as those same people are too busy telling people to essentially “Get over it. Stop talking about it. Things are better.” If you are the oppressor, you don’t get to decide when the oppressed are ready to forgive. Your job is to make amends. Look up what amends means. It is so much more than words.

      For the record, I am a gay White Southern man. I cam clearly see my privilege and responsibility. But I can also see that there is a powerful majority that has a lot of work to do to a lot of different groups of people if they ever want to sleep in peace from their own consciences.

  7. Chervis
    I enjoy reading your articles. I also enjoyed my limited association
    with you during my working years and now wish it had been less limited.
    I was born in Plateau Alabama with an extremely racist and alcoholic Dad. At an early age of seven I decided I would never be like him.
    I started working in the cotton fields at eight and did for years, mostly with black people. From there I worked in a warehouse unloading trucks and boxcars, mostly with black men. A black man there told me I might not need to sit with them and eat my sandwich for lunch because some of the white men might not like it . He asked me how to start a union , and my economics professor at Auburn gave me a name and phone number.
    The last quarter my parents ever gave me was when I was eight.
    When I was seventeen I bought for my parents their first car and saw both go to get the first driver’s licenses.
    I only tell you this as background for why I am writing to you. Please do not print this. I only wanted to say hello.

    1. Terry, I really appreciate your comment, but help me out. I know your name but I’m at a loss how I know you. Please tell me how we’re acquainted. Your story above is compelling and I’d like to know more.

  8. What a wonderful column! But it is odd how diametrically opposed to your experience mine was. I was born and raised about halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, on butterbeans and cornbread. My parents were both Southern as sweet tea, my Mother was born in the old Hillman Hospital right here in Birmingham, and my Dad so far out in the woods in Mississippi that to this very day they have yet to replace the “Whoa” signs with ones that say stop. They moved North in the late 50’s when many did, for jobs in the Auto industry. My Father served as a shop steward in the union, and gained a reputation for fighting for all his constituents without regard for the melatonin levels in their epidermis. He was soon elected VP of that 3500 member local, a position he held for more than 20 years. His best friend, the man I knew as Uncle Rose, lived in North Chicago, where his Uncle owned a barbershop, which he opened just for us on every Sunday during football season, and once every 3 or 4 weeks otherwise. I had the great good fortune to be practically raised in a barber shop in the very heart of and frequented by the entire Black community of that county. I can’t express in words the shock and dismay I felt when I discovered that racism existed. I still feel that sense of shame and dismay, and I have fought tooth and nail against it ever since I can remember. I suffer from the effects of racism, as we all do. The frustration for me is that it is not directed at me, but rather folks I love. The only circumstance I can imagine worse than that, is to have thought or felt like that about people.

    1. Thank you, Jerry, for your comment to my story. You have a truly remarkable background. You discovered racism when you were grown, while it was there from my inception, and I had to find my way out of it. This article was among the first inklings that something was fiercely wrong with the Jim Crow culture in which I was raised. Do you now live in Bham? If so, maybe we could get a coffee and talk it over.

      1. I would enjoy that. I was a child when I first discovered racism, but even as a child I found it obnoxious, and confronted it whenever I encountered it. That has grown into a tendency to actively advocate for all whom elements of our society attempt to marginalize. Feel free to PM your contact to me, and we will set something up.

  9. I enjoyed the article but found it a bit concerning that even today Mr Isom in his article referred to the middle aged black man as Tom and not Mr. xxx as he did the other characters.

    1. Dear Yolanda, I appreciate your comment. Understand that I was writing from my memories of over sixty years ago, when I was a teenager, maybe seventeen, and listening to grown men talk about the impending push for integration of public schools.
      That was the time that Jim Crow was the norm in Birmingham. At that time, the white barber and his white customers would have been Mr. Blank, but the middle-aged Black shoeshine man would have been called by his first name. I did not write the memory to offend anyone, but to portray the South as it was, and to make the point that even though I had been raised in that culture, I was beginning to question whether the Jim Crow culture was the way it ought to be. One of my first inklings that “something rotten was in Denmark,” as Shakespeare wrote.

  10. Chervis, my name is Bill Rogers. After the 1900 Galveston Flood (aka “Isaac’s Storm”) my grandparents evacuated to Birmingham courtesy of a one-way train ticket provided by the Red Cross. From 1900 until 1994, my grandfather and my father owned and managed the A.H. Rogers and Sons Painting and Decorating Co in Birmingham. (After his military experience in WWII, my father made a commitment to operate a union shop.)
    My grandparents birthed and nurtured nine children. With my father’s siblings, my parents lived out their lives in Birmingham. I was born in Birmingham in 1938. Most of my generation left Birmingham for a variety of reasons. For my parents and me the evolution of First Baptist Church, Birmingham/Baptist Church of the Covenant was an inflection point in our lives. My parents were founding members of BCOC.
    With great interest, I read your December 7, 2021 column. My childhood/adolescent experience parallels yours. I left Birmingham in 1957 to attend college in another state and never returned. Currently, I live in Charlotte NC. My health does not allow me to travel.
    Thanks for sharing your perspective. I share similar conclusions about my formative years in the city of my birth.

  11. Thank you, Linda, for your response to my article. I have a number of articles posted on my blog to be found on my website
    I will never forget the embarrassment I felt at the poor, middle-aged shoeshine man who had no defense except laughter behind which there was absolutely no mirth. Embarrassment and horror that the poor man was humiliated before an all -white audience. Was I the only one who felt any empathy for him? Thank you again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *