Monday, March 10, 2014

Kentucky Black Barbers Were Leaders in Reconstruction

Free black barbers in Kentucky used their tangible skills and business acumen to become African American community leaders during the antebellum and Civil War years. It is therefore not surprising that they continued that role in the immediate post-war era. 

A quick review of the participants of the First Convention of Colored Men of Kentucky, which was held in Lexington in March, 1866, shows a number of free black barbers in significant positions. 

The gentleman chosen to be treasurer was Benjamin Tibbs, a Danville free man of color barber. In 1860, Tibbs was 30 years old and possessed relatively considerable wealth with $1500 in personal property and $1000 in real estate. In 1858, Tibbs advertised in the Danville Weekly Kentucky Tribune. In that notice he commented that he had been in business at that point for over a decade. The convention's secretary was Henry Scroggins. Scroggins was a 19 year old Lexington barber in 1860. Alexander Botts of Catlettsburg in Boyd County was elected as a delegate. Botts was listed in the 1860 census as a 32 year old mixed-race barber worth $2000 in real estate and $100 in personal property.

Other barbers were chosen as honorary members of the convention and participated, too. S. C. Oldham, son of long time Lexington barber Samuel Oldham and the elder Oldham's grandson Nathaniel Oldham, Jr. from Maysville were chosen. S. C. was 33 years old and owned $100 in personal property, and Nathaniel was 20 years old in 1860. Another honorary member was Henry Johnson from Cynthiana in Harrison County. Johnson was 40 years old and owned $800 in real estate and $1000 in personal property in 1860. 

These men's pre-war status as free men of color, their relative wealth, and thus social status in their communities likely led to their being chosen for these important positions. Their business sense was respected by fellow African Americans and they were looked to to shape the future for the race in the state. While these men could have declined the honor, they accepted  out of a sense of obligation and a wish to continue advancements started with emancipation.

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