By CALVIN MAYNARD, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Henry Miller Morgan spread the word about Tyler, he really spread the word far beyond the city. He opened numerous barber colleges in cities throughout the nation, but he named them all after his first — the Tyler Barber College on East Erwin Street.
Miller passed away in 1961, but he was remembered by members of the Texas Association of Tonsorial Artists, who gathered Monday morning at the former site of the Tyler Barber College. Established in 1933 by Morgan, the school was the first African-American barber college in the United States.
“He started doing good business, so he got to open more barbershops; he opened one in Little Rock — Tyler Barber College,” said James Edward Smith, executive president of the TAOTA. “He opened one in Jackson, Miss. — Tyler Barber College. He opened one in Houston — Tyler Barber College. He opened one in Manhattan, New York — Tyler Barber College. In Florida, in Texas, in Chicago, in Arkansas … the man breathed Tyler.”
On Monday, the group also inducted three honorees into their Wall of Fame, a wall at the barber college (which has now been converted into the Henry Morgan Barber Museum) dedicated to members of the association who have shown dedication and skill in their careers. The inductees were Ruford Whitaker, owner of the Five-Point Barber Shop in Tyler, Samuel Arnour, and Charles Oliver.
The group then went on its annual Walk-a-thon, escorted by two Tyler police cars.
“We do this every year as a celebration,” Smith said. “We started at the corner of Bonner and Irwin at about 9 o’clock, and walked to the museum. It was about a 10-minute walk, and we had about 20 people.”
To the barbers present, the celebration is about their own careers as well as the college.
“I’ve been a barber 41 years,” Smith said. “I’m the seventh president since 1952. My oldest brother became a barber in 1958, so I got my desire to be a barber from watching him. My blood is longstanding.”
Other participants spoke about what the college meant to them.
“It’s my way of showing my appreciation for the benefits I received from ever going to barber college,” said Johnny Crawford, the last president of the TAOTA. “I’m 76 years old, I started barbering in 1960, I’m semi-retired now, and I’m grateful to be able to make a living from the profession. It’s important Mr. Morgan be recognized for the people he helped, and he was a light to many people. He never got to see all of the benefits from the seed he planted, but he helped a lot of people.”
The TAOTA is dedicated to educating African-American barbers in their skills and teaching them the history of their profession, with the help of historical celebrations like this.
“It’s all by the grace of God,” Smith said, “We always put God first. We’re also very grateful to Mary Jane McNamara of the Tyler Historical Society. She walked hand-in-hand with us and helped us get all this started. We’re also thankful for (former) Mayor Barbara Bass, who has been a great help to us, and was there when we got our historical marker. And we also thank Tyler for embracing us, showing us the love.”