#TBT - Black Barbers have been keeping the CD looking sharp for over 100 years.
Today as we celebrate the Grand Opening of the new Earl's Cuts & Styles, we look back to honor the strong legacy of barbers in the Central District.
The #TBT series is a collaboration between the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and Africatown Seattle to give historical insights and perspectives into Black history and Black contributions in the Seattle area and Washington State as a whole.
From the l920s through the 1940s, East Madison Street from 12th to 28th Avenues, and within a few blocks north and south, was the business center of the Central District where one could find all types of black-owned and operated businesses. As Seattle’s black population grew, the demand for varied services was in demand and many aspired to the call.
Today, as was the past, barber shops catered to discerning clientele and well-groomed men with kept beards. Underneath all the outward appearances the barber shop was and is regarded as a special place to cut loose, shoot the breeze, swap tales, talk about issues and politics of the day, play cards, chess or dominoes. Known as the tonsorial, parlor or barber, no matter the name, this refuge of sorts is regarded for its unique social function.
The history of Seattle’s black-owned barber shops and beauty salons is rich. Barbers, beauticians and stylists are admired as self-made entrepreneurs, skilled in their profession, doing a dance around the client chair all day long, trading gossip and holding secrets. It wasn’t until 1956 that Seattle’s first black barber’s union, the Haven of Associated Barbers was organized by Mr. Ulester Garry, Sr. Mr. Garry was elected union president and in 1957 he opened Garry’s Deluxe Barber Parlor at 1918 E. Yesler. He cut Jackie Robinson’s hair there on his one and only visit to Seattle. Listen to Mr. Garry as he shares his story in this pop-up interview session recorded at Seattle’s 2014 ROOTS (Relatives of OldTimers) Celebration.
Reaching back to the 1920’s at 2324 E. Madison Street was Buxton’s Tonsorial Parlor – Catering to the Fastidious.
*The advertisement is from a 1920s community souvenir booklet.
The owner/manager was a black man by the name of Samuel E. Buxton who had success on Madison Street and later moved to a location at 1731 22nd Avenue. He renamed the establishment Square Deal Barber Shop – Ladies Haircutting a Specialty.
By 1928 Buxton sold the Square Deal Barber Shop to William Jackson. Later Margaret (Margie) Malone took over the business. Mr. Garry mentions ‘Margie’ in his 2014 ROOTS interview. She was the only female member at the start of the first black barber’s union.
As black businesses come and go, and when the community loses the places that bring comfort, identity and comradery, the preservation of legacies plant our feet to ground the roots to nurture and inform the resurrection of black business we see claiming space in the Central Area today.
Earl Lancaster, Earls Cuts and Styles we see you holding down the phenomenal tradition of barbering in the heart of the Central Area. You stand on history, hard work, community, and determination to inspire the future.
Let’s Take A Walk, A Tour of Seattle’s Central Area, As It Was Then (1920s and 1930’s), Jacqueline E. A. Lawson, 1999.
Ms. Lawson is co-founder at the Black Heritage Society of Washington State and the Black Genealogy Research Group. She received the prestigious 2019 National Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Association for State and Local History.