A couple years ago there was a news story from Florida reporting a massive sweep of black- and Hispanic-owned barbershops. In one raid, 14 deputies stormed the Strictly Skillz barbershop during business hours on a busy Saturday, handcuffing barbers in front of their customers. As the barbers sat on the ground in handcuffs, the customers—including children—were removed from the shop, and deputies began searching workstations and checking licenses, all without warrants or explanation. Nothing illegal was discovered, and the barbers’ licenses were current.
Things were worse at other shops where the barbers were rounded up, arrested and charged with the crime of “barbering without a license.” Nowhere did law enforcement find evidence of drug distribution, the ostensible reason for the multiple raids.
These legal assaults called to mind my own childhood experience of my brothers and me being hauled across town every month to the private home of a middle-aged lady named Mrs. McAfee. To see this kindly housewife on the street, you would never have picked her out as a career criminal, the Al Capone of bootleg haircuts in the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois. You see, she was not a government-licensed barber–but as far as we were concerned–she was the best barber in town
We kids loved that she had the fastest clippers in the Midwest. Our mothers loved the low cost. The haircuts were not bad either. Mrs. McAfee could knock out a crew cut, ducktail, trim around the ears or even a Mohawk (if Mom would agree) in five minutes. Summertime was often inaugurated with a close buzz cut, which–in the sixties–was called a “burr” haircut.
On one Saturday every month, the mothers in our neighborhood would pack up their sons to drive over to Mrs. McAfee’s house. Each of us was frequently warned: “Remember never to tell anyone that she cuts your hair. She can get into trouble.” We never told.
So every Saturday, Mrs. McAfee would cut 10 heads an hour, all day long, at 50 cents a head. Great money and no overhead. I doubt that any father in my neighborhood was earning $5 an hour in 1964.
Barbering without a license has long been a crime. Today it carries a jail sentence. I suspect such criminals still walk among us. I also suspect their customers are still happy for the service. For me, I want to say thanks to Mrs. McAfee for her good, fast, cheap haircuts. You were a criminal and my mother was your accomplice, but the statute of limitations has run out by now.