I saw this blue Pontiac pull in front of the shop. And I saw this young man get out and you’re like, any barber, the first time you look at a new customer, you’re going to look at his head. And I looked at his head, and I thought, heck I can knock him out in 15 minutes. So when he came in the barbershop, like any new customer, he said what’s your name? He said Martin Luther, King.
My brother worked in the barbershop since 1948. My other brother came here also, in the ’50s, and so the three of us decided we’ll go into business in 1958, in the Ben Moore Hotel.
All the musicians, basically, came to town before the ’64 Civil Rights Bill. Lil Richie came to Montgomery. Then you had Duke Ellington, then you had Ray Charles. Ike and Tina Turner, they stayed at the Ben Moore Hotel.
The Ben Moore had the Majestic café was on the corner here, then the hotel was in the center, then on the third floor was the rooftop garden where they had dances and so forth.
The Ben Moore Hotel was the only Black licensed facility in Montgomery, for Black people.
Martine Luther King, I started cutting his hair in 1954, at the barbershop.
After I cut his hair seven or eight times, he never give me a tip. So, I decided I’d use a little psychology, I said, “Rev, if you’re preaching the sermon on Sunday and they tell you it’s a good sermon, doesn’t it make you feel good?” He said, “yes.” I said, “you go to the restaurant you have a nice meal and the waitress gives you a good service and you give her a tip,” I said, “don’t you think that make her feel good? He said, “yes.” So he got out of that chair, he grabbed my hand and held it real tight and said, “do you put ten percent of your earnings in checks?” I said, “Rev I’m a student at Alabama State College, I cannot afford to put ten percent of my earnings in checks.” He said, “I’m a pastor at the church, I can’t afford to tip you, either.” So, we had a really good relationship.
But I had an idea I’d be covering one of the most historical figures of the 20th century, I certainly would have handled him differently.
The most celebrated protest was in 1960 when the Alabama State students made an attempt to march on Montgomery County courthouse. they didn’t have a permit or anything to march. So, they sent for Reverend King and he came and that’s when he turned that corner across the street. They have a meeting of some kind of way, they made an arrangement to march to the courthouse and that’s when John Lewis, James Farmer, Reverend Douglas all met out in front of the barbershop. That’s the only time that we closed the barbershop to participate in the march, with the students.
Well, I really had no idea creating a museum. All the pictures you see on the wall here now was started out by one of my customers who carried his son down to Florida and they put a snake around his neck. And he brought the picture back and gave it to me and I was so impressed so I put the picture up on the wall and the next time he came, he was so enthused to see his picture by himself, so that’s when I got the idea that people like to see their pictures on the wall, so I just start taking picture after picture.
I wish I had made some pictures of Reverend King at the barber shop. When he was writing so many speeches and going over his notes in the trash can, he had back there. I probably could have bought everybody in Montgomery a Porsche.