GEGNER’S BARBER SHOP

This arrived today in my mailbox and really struck me as synchronous. I’m not an alumni of Antioch College, I graduated from U of Md…but as a freshman I attended Antioch in the summer of ’61. I’d recently turned 17, they’d offered me a Naval Engineering scholarship for their $3000 tuition and I went for it. Antioch was on the “quarter system”, meaning we went to class for three months and worked at a career related job. Mine was at David Taylor Model Basin in Carderock, Md.  It was a Naval research facility and had at that time, the largest computer in the world. The Univac Larc…and I got to troubleshoot it. My most resonant memory is having reached into a tape transport and receiving an electrical shock that knocked me out, momentarily.

I spent only two semesters at Antioch.  I was young, immature and undisciplined.  Antioch demanded that I attend only my first and my final class in each course.  I was away from home for the first time in my LIFE!.  I was discovering girls and alcohol and gambling! And OF COURSE, I went completely off the rails, managed a D average…and it was a miracle I did THAT well.  My father immediately demanded that I withdraw, join our family in Germany and attend U of Md in Munich…which I did.

But that year at Antioch, alone for the first time in my life was understandably full of memorable experiences for me.  At that time, Antioch was among our most prestigious American colleges, academically…but it catered to a student with maturity and self-discipline.  Both of which I lacked!  So it goes.

I was about to toss this slick glossy effort in my mailbox to elicit some money from me…but on a whim, I began to turn its pages.  And I chanced upon this article about another young Black man, a few years after me…and discovered we’d shared a resonant experience.  I never met this man, Prexy Nesbitt. He arrived some time after me. Antioch then had about 750 students, 350 per quarter. Obviously it was small!  This is not your contemporary multi-versity…this was WALDEN!   Later, it evolved into a multi-university of its own.  J

Of those 350 students in my quarter, there were just a handful of students of color. Antioch was then 95% Jewish.  So had our paths crossed, I would have known and remembered Prexy.  But we shared a common experience!  This profile references a resonant memory for me.  My fathers entire life was dedicated to the advancement of opportunity for people of color.  This was early days for the civil rights movement in America.  I didn’t march in protests, I didn’t sit in at Woolworths, I didn’t register voters in the south.

What I did and the experience Prexy and I shared was SITTING IN AT GEGNER’S BARBERSHOP.  Prexy did it in 1964.  I did it in 1961.  I wasn’t then all that political…even so,  that a barbershop near me refused to cut the hair of people of color, motivated ME to participate in a SIT IN.  1961, children.  I didn’t expect him to offer me an incredibly flattering haircut.  I just resented the fact that he refused to cut the hair of people of color!

So… I sat in!  For several political events, as I recall. Gegner never surrendered in 1961.  Evidently his prejudice endured into 1964, when Prexy arrived.  I’d imagine at some point, Gegner surrendered…or perhaps Gegner closed his fucking barbershop and retired.  I have no idea.  I left Antioch in ‘62, traveled to Munich and began my college education anew…and the rest is history.  J

Prexy Nesbitt has had an accomplished life, without question.  I’m smiling, remembering my own connection to our shared experience of PROTEST.  See, there were other barbershops near Antioch at that time that would cut the hair of people of color…but not Gegner.  And you know what?  Gegner had comic books in his shop!  COMIC BOOKS. People!  So, while my 17 year old self may have been impassioned by the need to REPRESENT for my brothers and sisters…who knows?  The tipping point may well have been those fucking comic books.

 

 

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