Harlem Barber Shop a witness to history

Published: Nov. 15, 2011 at 9:04 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2011 at 11:14 PM EST
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It was along the sidewalks of South Albany that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and other protestors marched to city hall during the Albany Civil Rights Movement.

Their footprints are now permanently etched on those sidewalks, and they carry you right past Harlem Barber Shop on South Jackson Street.

The cemented footprints bring back memories for Eugene Bailey.

"Every time you look out there, it automatically comes across your mind," said Bailey.

The longtime barber thinks back 50 years.

"At that time, I was a shoe shine boy. I was shining shoes. I'd leave school and come to the barber shop every day," said Bailey.

And every night, he attended church meetings.

"They would have a meeting every night and they had Charles Sherrod and all of them coming through here," Bailey said.

Those church meetings spilled onto the streets, and Eugene Bailey marched.

"I was young then, real young and I just got in the line with them when we left the church around there and went downtown marching with them," said Bailey.

He marched all the way to jail.

Bailey says, "They locked us up. Transferred us over to the jailhouse and I stayed there about three days."

Bailey, who's now 71, says he wasn't trying to cause trouble, he just wanted the same life that others had.

"It was segregated. You couldn't go in certain places. You couldn't use the water fountains, the restrooms. You went downtown you had to come back to the Trailways Bus Station to use the restroom. You didn't have nowhere downtown you could go in," said Bailey.

Fifty years later, Eugene Bailey owns Harlem Barber Shop. One of his chairs is occupied by customer Donald Carter, who was nine years old when Bailey and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marched by.

"I would see them march from Shiloh, come down going North on Jackson to city hall and through the town," said Carter.

Even as a child, Carter recognized the disparity.

"During the time when they had the State Theatre on Pine Avenue, blacks could not go in it. Woolworth's, you wouldn't dare go to Woolworth's to try to get a bite to eat because they wouldn't serve you," said Carter.

He recognized the significance of the Civil Rights Movement and benefited from it as he grew up.

"They had segregation in the military. That had changed when I got there. I went into the military in 1975, U.S. Navy,and a lot of that had changed," Carter said.

That change came one footstep at a time from civil rights pioneers like Eugene Bailey.

"Life is much better. Still have a long way to go but it's much better," says Bailey.

The former shoeshine boy, now barber shop owner, now cuts hair beneath a portrait of our nation's first African American President.

Copyright 2011 WALB.  All rights reserved.