Davidson College is a small school in Davidson, North Carolina, part of suburban Charlotte now but years ago a crossroads town that quickly trailed off into the country. You could see a French professor get his hair cut next to a farmer. All the barbers in town were black, and by convention for many years they served blacks only after hours. But they had a thriving business, which they wanted to protect. One or two years of ROTC was mandatory back then, not an uncommon practice. Also there was a war going on, so even after the requirement was dropped many students still enrolled in ROTC. They all had to get haircuts, and a haircut, like much else then, was simple. Keep it short and straight. It was students who protested the policy and finally got the barbers to change, though not without a fight.
When I attended, however, the Vietnam War was winding down. We let our hair grow. Our basketball team wasn’t very good, but they probably had the longest hair in the NCAA. At least they beat Harvard. The barbers were having a hard time and could be seen standing idly in empty shops.
One day, impossibly maned, I paused at one and debated. Christmas break was coming up and I would soon be going home. I started to turn away when a black hand grabbed me.
“Where you going?” the barber asked.
“I guess I’m going to get a haircut,” I said.
And I did.
I didn’t know what I wanted or what to tell him and he didn’t know what to do with me, but something was managed. He was a good guy, who had kids.
“You are the all-American boy,” he said when he finished and spun me around to look at myself in the mirror.
My philosophy professor said I looked like Prince Valiant, the one in the comics.