The door opened as an elderly man walked into Reverend Linton’s barber shop. Instantly, Rev. Linton greeted him warmly saying, “You doing alright today? I haven’t seen you in two weeks!” This is not an unusual occurrence as Linton has countless regulars that come into his shop for a haircut, or even just to visit. Howard and Linton Barber and Beauty Shop (name recently changed to Linton Barber Shop) have been in business for an incredible sixty-six years! After so much time, to NOT have an extensive list of regulars would be highly unusual. Not only does the reverend cut hair, but as his title suggests, he is the pastor of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ on 35th Avenue in west Tuscaloosa.
When you walk into the shop, it’s like taking a step back in time. The wallpaper that covers the wall has aged like a fine wine; completely covered in historic articles and photos of the city coupled with over one thousand shaving mugs. Upon entering, the first thing you see is a classic gumball machine that instantly reminds you of your childhood. To the left, a row of chairs lines the wall that invites you to wait for a cut, or simply to chat with Rev. Linton. On the right, you’ll find a coca cola machine tucked into a corner that looks to be decades old, along with three barber chairs stationed in front of wooden cabinets that hold all of the tools of the trade. In the last chair is where you’ll find Reverend Linton. When he’s not busy, he’ll sit down in the chair while he talks to his friends that come to visit him during his down time and is the very chair that I got my haircut in while we talked.
With it being Black History Month, we at VisitTuscaloosa wanted to do something special. Badly needing a haircut, we realized it may be time for me to give Linton a visit. The Civil Rights history in Tuscaloosa is extensive, yet widely overlooked in recent years. Touting himself as the oldest leader in the area left of the civil rights movement, Reverend Linton had a front-row seat for it all. Rev. Linton moved from Greene County, Alabama to Tuscaloosa to attend Stillman College. The college was put in place by the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Tuscaloosa “for training of colored men for the ministry”, which is exactly why Linton went. Since he’s been preaching every year since 1959, it seems as though he’s made the right choice.
Reverend Linton is truly a one and only in Tuscaloosa and even beyond into the southeast when it comes to his contributions to civil rights in Alabama. So much so that he will often host college level classes in his barbershop for stories and lessons on things he experienced first-hand in Tuscaloosa. He mentioned that he was only a kid when Authurine Lucy was suspended from the University of Alabama. State Troopers brought her to an African-American newspaper company just two doors down from the barber shop. Again, just a few years later, the infamous “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” took place at Foster Auditorium at the University of Alabama’s campus.
The civil rights fight in Tuscaloosa would come to a head in what is known as “Bloody Tuesday”. The day prior, Rev. Linton and other leaders in Tuscaloosa’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference chapter held a meeting to relay the details of a major march they were planning the next day to the Tuscaloosa County Courthouse that had been recently built. A major reason for this was the segregation prominent in the courthouse when it came to separate restrooms and water fountains.
The government caught wind and told them they weren’t going to march, but the African-American community was having none of it and planned to march anyway. Reverend Linton’s job was “to bail folks out of jail” throughout the movement, so was required to lay low and stay out of trouble. Because of this, he called his lawyer who told him “You know you can’t march. If you march who’s going to get people out of jail?” That Tuesday, the march didn’t happen. After meeting at First African Baptist, protesters were greeted outside by a sea of blue. Tear gas, billy clubs, baseball bats, and many other items were used in an ambush. 94 people were arrested on that day as well as over 100 injuries. Known for staying out of trouble, the injured went to Linton’s Barber Shop to take shelter from the terror taking place just blocks away. The ones who were stable were taken care of by a nurse at the barber shop while 33 had to be taken to Druid City Hospital. Fascinating enough, Bloody Tuesday was the only major civil rights event in the state of Alabama that didn’t involve a death. As far as the ones arrested, Reverend Linton was tasked with getting those 94 out of jail. Dr. King then stepped in to help and sent a bail bondsman who helped Linton successfully bail them all out.
Among other incredible accomplishments, Rev. Linton is also responsible for the city hiring the first black cashiers in stores outside of the black district of Tuscaloosa. Linton’s fight for civil rights was a long, but successful journey and is absolutely incredible to hear. You can find the story of his fight on the walls of his barbershop as he’s turned his shop into a museum of sorts. Anywhere you look you can find an article or a “whites only” sign hanging in memorial to the segregation of the courthouse. So next time you’re looking for a haircut, try getting it cut with a healthy dose of history from the One and Only Linton’s Barber Shop.