MLK's Barber Created A Space For Civil Rights Organizing

barber tools laying on a clean white towel
Leslie Taylor-Grover
June 28, 2022

Nelson Malden was a barber, and when a young MLK walked into his barber shop, his focus was on his craft. MLK was at the beginning of his civil rights work, and that day he needed a line up in preparation for a sermon. But the relationship between the two men would soon go far beyond hair and grooming.

Malden’s barbershop served as a place for Black men to find peace, engage in self care, and be vulnerable with one another. But for MLK it eventually became something much more.

Often MLK would spend time in the shop writing, studying, and preparing speeches. As he grew in fame, he would invite others in his circle to find solace at Malden’s shop. The men’s friendship flourished – and there was one more time that Malden would play an important role in MLK’s life.

Malden, now a confidante and friend of MLK, gave him the last haircut he would ever have in his life – MLK’s last visit was right before his assassination. The two men’s legacies were forever intertwined.

Malden transformed his barbershop into more than a safe space. Through his connection with MLK he transformed the Black barbershop into a laboratory for liberation. Wherever we support each other is where we create a sacred community, regardless of where it is!

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