June 2011 ~ ALBANY, GA

Nope. Not talking about the infamous Harlem in New York City, but rather its namesake 1000 miles south in Albany, GA. It’s hot as the dickens that day, but nice and comfortable inside the barbershop on the corner of W. Highland and S. Jackson Streets in this historic district. When you open the door, the little bell rings, just as you’d expect it to. That day in June I learned that this is where my late dad went for hair cuts for well over 40 years, and I finally crossed the threshold last June while home researching the novel.

I introduce myself to the owner and head barber, Eugene Bailey, (he goes by Boo Jean) and ask him, “I’m Silas Jones’ baby girl…did you happen to know my dad?” He smiles, “Oh yeah!…we always knew we was gon’ have a good time whenever Silas walked through the door!” Turns out Boo Jean was my dads barber for years. What a legacy, I say to myself, even 13 years after  his death, my dad evokes a genuine smile at the very mention of his name.

Set in the concrete of the Jackson Street sidewalk in front of the barbershop, bronze foot steps head north, perpetually retracing the route of the December 1961 civil rights march from Shiloh Baptist Church to City Hall. Dr. King spoke at Shiloh that night which marked the start of the Albany Movement.

After interviewing Boo Jean, I park myself in a chair by the window, watching and listening as customers come and go. I fully get that there are many stories from my dad’s bi-monthly visits that Boo Jean cannot share—the “divine conversation” [aka gossip]  between men in the barbershop is sacred. (And let’s face it…mosta that stuff I don’t even wanna know!)

So, as he shaves the head of a young man in his chair, Boo Jean respectfully keeps to stories of his youth—50 years ago—working in the Albany Movement: the marches and arrests; the awful food and treatment while in jail; the things young black folk take for granted today because he and others fought for them in the 60s…and…the wonderful vintage Coca~Cola ice chest he still has in the back of the shop (not working—and though he gets offers constantly—he’ll NEVER part with it).

Unfortunately, I didn’t get pictures of Chance, the veteran shoe shine expert who shares the shop with Boo Jean, but you can bet I wrote characters based on both of them. Can’t give away too much more except to say: Thank you, Boo Jean for the stories and for your part in history.

Now ~ I’ll let these pictures say the rest…

All photos by Anita Jones © 2011

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