Mr. James Armstrong is a barber, a “foot soldier” and a dreamer whose barbershop in Birmingham, Alabama has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights since 1955. “The dream” of a promised land, where dignity and the right to vote belongs to everyone is documented in photos, headlines and clippings that cram every inch of wall space (and between the mirrors).
85-years-young, jauntily wearing a bowtie and suspenders, Mr. Armstrong will cut your hair while recounting his experiences as a “foot soldier”, citing the pictures on his wall as he does. In March 1965, civil rights activists began a march from Selma to Montgomery calling for voting rights. Mr. Armstrong, an Army Veteran, was the proud bearer of the American flag in that march, and it’s said that even as state troopers tear-gassed the crowd and beat marchers with billy clubs, he held the flag high. On the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday he carries that flag.
He used his barber chair to educate: “If you want a voice, you have to vote; you can’t complain about nothing if you don’t vote.” Despite threats to his life and home, his two sons were the first to integrate an all white elementary school. “Dying isn’t the worst thing a man can do. The worst thing a man can do is nothing.” No one can accuse Mr. Armstrong of doing nothing; and on the eve of the election of the first African-American president, the barber of Birmingham sees his unimaginable dream come true.