No one can be sure of the number and amount at this time, but the contents of the late Reverend Thomas Linton’s barbershop, slated to populate a future civil rights history museum in Tuscaloosa, is a lot, not scientifically speaking. .
Next week, a team of archivists and volunteers, including members of the Tuscaloosa Civil Rights History and Reconciliation Foundation, will begin the arduous task of inventorying and cataloging Linton’s collection. These items are currently stored in rooms in The Tuscaloosa News building, which was purchased by the City of Tuscaloosa for the Saban Center, a state-of-the-art interactive learning center for children.
The rooms are filled with boxes and filing cabinets filled with files, newspaper histories and other artifacts from the city’s civil rights struggles, actions Linton both witnessed and participated in until his death in March 2020, at age 88.
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Stacked along and around are rows of barber and beauty parlor paraphernalia ranging from chairs to razors and clippers, from shaving cups to wooden crank telephones, from cast iron cash registers to perhaps 57 spittoons.
“The list of supplies needed to do this is only two and a half pages long,” said Scott Bridges, co-chair of the Civil Rights Foundation, which will be involved in the work. “You have to have the right materials, the right type of tape, the right backing…”
Tim Lewis, the foundation’s other co-chair, is coordinating the effort, bringing in archival experts including Tom Wilson, retired associate dean for research and technology at the University of Alabama Libraries; Bill Bomar, Executive Director of UA Museums; PhD student volunteers and others.
“We’re just beginning the process of taking inventory of what’s in the boxes,” Lewis said, “to tag, tag, take pictures, and build a database.
“We are still gathering all the resources for what is going to be quite a lengthy process,” possibly taking months, he said.
The city of Tuscaloosa, which purchased Linton’s former store with the intention of turning it into a museum, has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the foundation, said Tom Bobitt, assistant city attorney.
“We provide space, cameras and photographic equipment, tables and chairs,” Bobitt said. “They give of their time.”
The original plan called for the foundation to work on-site at the barbershop, but structural inspections revealed potential health risks, including mold and a leaky roof. Linton’s collection was therefore packed up and transported to the News building for study.
“They had offered to catalog everything in the barbershop, and we were okay with them doing that,” Bobitt said. “But because of mold, we don’t allow long exposure in the building.”
There is no fixed time to return to the old barber shop as it will depend on a number of factors including repairs, item catalog and then determining the best way to use the space.
Visitors to Linton’s shop were often given a history lesson with a garnish, and those particularly interested could get a guided tour. But few would be entitled to the full visit, as it could take more hours than a day could accommodate.
“What you saw at the front of the store was just the tip of the iceberg,” Lewis said. “He was an avid collector, of all things.”
His kids told Lewis that if you offered Linton something, he wouldn’t refuse. So even those things he didn’t witness or collect himself could still end up under the roof.
“There are old electric shavers dating back to the 1940s, spittoons everywhere,” Lewis said. “One of the things I tell people that stuck with me was that he had framed a tax receipt from 1954, where he paid.”
Poll taxes were used by a number of Southern states in the 19th and 20th centuries, with the aim of disenfranchising black voters, who were often too poor to pay the regressive taxation.
“You hear about this stuff, but seeing it…it’s living history,” Lewis said.
But even regulars at Linton’s Barbershop would probably not have seen the full extent of what is currently gathered, awaiting study.
“It’s a multi-month project, but we don’t know how long,” Lewis said. “We don’t know what we have yet.
“But I think we’re all excited about the potential, seeing what was there.”
On a quick tour of the congregation, Lewis saw four barber chairs, four or five huge metal cash registers, clippers and razors dating back to at least the 1940s, three wooden crank telephones, spittoons and other bric-a-brac.
“His collection of shaving mugs is amazing,” Lewis said with a laugh.
The barbershop on what is now TY Rogers Jr. Avenue, named after the civil rights leader chosen by the Reverend Martin Luther King to lead Tuscaloosa’s efforts, often served as a gathering place and refuge.
After racists threw food and trash at Autherine Lucy as she tried to sign up for UA, she was brought to the store to get cleaned up. On ‘Bloody Tuesday’, June 9, 1964, when activists attempting a peaceful march to protest the segregated courthouse were beaten by deputized thugs, some slipped into the store, while Linton himself relieved directly from U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, helping arrange hospital care and bail money for the 94 people arrested, and the 33 beaten badly enough to require medical attention.
Like the old city jail, on Seventh Street across from Capitol Park, which is slated to become a center for civil rights learning, the shop is being analyzed for repairs and preservation.
“The question is whether the building can in fact be restored or should it be rebuilt,” Bridges said. “We need to figure out which part of the building is worth saving, historically.”
After the work of cataloging and preserving the material, and whatever repairs and reconstruction are needed for the space, efforts will be directed towards determining the best way to display everything from civil rights history to details. from the hair salon.
“So everything will basically go back to where it was,” Bridges said.
With all that to juggle, no one can guess when the Linton Barbershop will open as a museum, Lewis said. But between the founding and the city’s investment, it will continue to move forward, he said, and will undoubtedly become a high point on Tuscaloosa’s historic 18-step civil rights trail.
To learn more about the foundation and its work, see www.civilrightstuscaloosa.org.