Sunday, October 21, 2007

Civil Rights History in Tuscaloosa News

Dedicated propertyprof readers will recall that I sometimes discuss charming stories related to property in my hometown paper, the Tuscaloosa News.  Although this is more about civil rights history than property, I thought that you might enjoy this story about one of our local heroes, Thomas Linton, who is a Presbyterian minister and a barber.  Here are some key excerpts:

The spirit of Linton's message at the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ on 35th Avenue in west Tuscaloosa thrives at his shop. No risque magazines make it to the table, no one smokes at the shop and a religious show flashes on the TV most days.

As a minister and owner of Howard's and Linton's Barbershop on T.Y. Rogers Jr. Avenue, he led much of the civil rights struggle in the 1950s and '60s fought on that street. He helped form the ministerial alliance with the Rev. T.Y. Rogers Jr., for whom the historical block was renamed, and led mass meetings at the First African Baptist Church that was bombed with tear gas June 9, 1964. After that, Linton persuaded the city's white leaders to hire blacks as clerks and cashiers for the first time in stores outside the black district. ...

Civil rights turbulence of the mid 1950s was starting when John Linton shined shoes as a 14-year-old at his brother's barbershop. Then, a sign still stood on the U.S. Highway 82 roadside touting Tuscaloosa as the home of Robert Shelton, imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

"I was a kid when Authurine Lucy tried to attend the University of Alabama," John Linton said in telephone interview from his home. "It was an outrage."

That February day in 1956 when Authurine Foster Lucy was suspended from the university, whites pelted her with eggs and state troopers escorted her to the black-owned newspaper, The Alabama Citizen, where a throng of more than 300 gathered. The paper was two shops away from the barber and then-beauty shop.

Robert Wade, 87, ran the linotype machine at the black newspaper. He recalled his indignation of that day.

"I had lost three brothers in World War II," said Wade, owner of a Tuscaloosa print shop. "I couldn't understand why blacks could serve their country but weren't accepted at a university."

Thomas Linton said that Lucy sought refuge in the barbershop, where beauticians helped her wash off the mess.

"It was a gathering place," John Linton said. "I saw some tremendous things happen there when I was a kid." ...

Union Morrow, a 70-year-old brick layer and Tuscaloosa resident, has barbered with Linton for 59 years. They grew up chopping cotton together on their family's small farms in Mantua, in Greene County. Linton's fortitude made a difference to him.

"I always wanted to emulate him because he was a model," said Morrow, who still lays brick and taught the craft at Fredd and Shelton State community colleges. "He was instrumental in change. He was a peaceable, very religious and down-to-earth person. He had a great conviction that everyone should be treated fairly."

Next time you're in Tuscaloosa, you really need to eat at Maggie's Diner, which is just down the block from Howard's and Linton's Barbershop.

Alfred L. Brophy
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