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Encore: A Black-owned barbershop is added to the National Register of Historic Places


A barbershop in Portland, Ore., has made the cut. It's on the National Register of Historic Places. Katia Riddle tells us why.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: The story of Dean's Barber Shop and Beauty Salon begins in 1944. That's when a young married couple set out from Birmingham, Ala., with their three children for a new life.

KIMBERLY BROWN: It was a big, big chance they were taking.

RIDDLE: Kimberly Brown is their granddaughter. Her grandparents were part of the Great Migration. They left the South, along with millions of other Black people. Brown says it was a brave choice.

BROWN: But what were they leaving - I mean, you know, sharecropping and Jim Crow and all the horrible things that our ancestors have lived under? It was a chance that they had to take.

RIDDLE: I feel like it was a kind of a moment of collective hope.

BROWN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Like, there has to be something better.

RIDDLE: Brown says her grandparents' new life was better. They landed in Oregon. It wasn't an obvious choice. Not that many years previous, the state didn't even allow Black people to live here. But the small number of Black residents made for a close community. Her grandparents bought a house in the heart of that community. Brown stands in front of that same house on this day.

BROWN: Ms. Lucille lived there.

RIDDLE: The family doesn't own it anymore.

BROWN: So it was a all-Black neighborhood when I was growing up. Everybody around here was Black.

RIDDLE: And now?

BROWN: Everybody around here is white.

RIDDLE: Gentrification and redlining has displaced much of the Black community. But one thing that is still here - the barber shop that Brown's grandparents started. She now owns and runs it.

BROWN: My grandmother's station was in that corner.

RIDDLE: Kimberly Brown is a third-generation hairstylist. Her mom's old chair is behind her.

BROWN: I'll tell customers who've been here a long time, like, go to my mom's chair. And they know what chair I'm talking about.

RIDDLE: Much of the neighborhood has moved away, says Brown. But the shop is a refuge.

BROWN: It's a really - community space, you know? Even if you don't come anymore, you still feel welcome. You still come in and hang out in the shop. You don't have to get your hair done. You can just come and kick it.

RIDDLE: Many things happen here besides hair?

BROWN: Absolutely. Absolutely. Hair is one - is probably the least of the things that happens in here.

BRANDON SPENCER-HARTLE: The intangible story of resilience and continuity over time of a legacy business like Dean's Barber Shop is really the next frontier of how we deploy historic preservation resources.

RIDDLE: Brandon Spencer-Hartle is a city planner in Portland. He helped to place the shop on the National Register. He says it's part of a larger effort in cities across the country to reshape the criteria for this designation.

SPENCER-HARTLE: It's not just about the buildings you can see from the sidewalk, but about the people who have occupied them.

RIDDLE: Unlike many buildings on the National Historic Register, this one is living history. Noni Causey is visiting the shop on this day. She started coming here with her mom when she was 6.

NONI CAUSEY: The beauty shop and the barber shop is a place where young people came to learn how to be adults.

RIDDLE: Causey recalls spending hours listening to the older ladies sit and talk in the salon. She says they taught her some of her most important life lessons.

CAUSEY: Like, how to have relationships that lasted forever, how to work through friendships, marriages - and because of that, I was married for, like, 29 years - till death do you part, right? But I only learned that because other women had done it.

RIDDLE: Causey says it's not just the women who come of age in Dean's Barber Shop and Beauty Salon. She has four sons. The shop provided them with role models, too. It's a place, she says, where a boy can see what it means to be a man.

For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Portland, Ore.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Katia Riddle
[Copyright 2024 NPR]