"There will always be an Afro Hut," Willie Alexander Harry in 1996 told City Paper's Vincent Williams, who crafted a personal essay about the importance of Harry's hair-cutting hub on York Road, as well as barber shops and the barber trade generally. "If we're lucky," Williams concluded-writing the phrase twice, for emphasis, in closing.
Whether the Harry's Afro Hut survives Harry's death this year remains to be seen, but there always will be places like it-gathering places for men to get their trims, for youngsters to be apprenticed in the trade, and for civilized, multigenerational conversation that furthers collective wit and wisdom-and it will, along with Harry himself, be long remembered as a model for how barbers and their shops should be.
The South Carolina native grew up in Pigtown, studied shoe repair in high school, and went on to become a metal-shop supervisor before getting into the barbering business.
At Harry's place, which opened in the 1970s and served celebrities and everymen alike, the cross-pollination of ideas spawned political awareness and the significance of service, giving back to the community, passing along values and skills. Among his many acts of volunteerism, Harry would go to Rosewood State Hospital to give free cuts to residents. Mindful of the high rates of heart trouble among black men, Harry took patrons' blood pressure while they sat quietly in the barber chairs.
"On any given day," Williams wrote, "you can go in the Afro Hut and see people from all walks of life coming to visit their personal barber. Politicians, truck drivers, doctors, lawyers, janitors, mechanics-everyone needs their hair cut. Teenagers, children, old men-everyone needs their hair cut. The sociological significance of this unique mixture of people is not lost on Harry, either.
"'Barbershops let black males vent their frustrations freely and learn from each other, because all walks of life are here,' he says. 'FBI and Secret Service men, politicians, it doesn't matter, they can come in here and just be men and talk to each other. Barbers serve as therapists to all. Barbers take negative vibes and turn them positive.'"
Harry's Afro Hut served as a training ground for new generations of vibe-turning barbers, who took up a trade that would travel with them wherever life took them. That's a peaceful, productive legacy Harry can rest on with pride.
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