The Journey


The Journey

"I'm sure I've paid my dues, but I don't know if I have. I mean I'm 71 years old."

- James Raeford

After graduating from Anne Chestnut High School in Fayetteville, Raeford moved to Hampton, Virginia, for a year to live with his cousin. Raeford says that his decision for doing so was because "I was young, I thought I knew everything and I wanted to be out on my own." He worked at a motel for a while before he got a better job working on the Langerfield Air Force Base where he made 1 dollar and 25 cents per hour. Raeford says that this amount "was a lot of money to me back then." Raeford then moved back to Grays Creek for a year and commuted to Durham, North Carolina, to attend Bull City Barber School to obtain his barber license. It was during this time that Raeford received a phone call from Mr. Ralph Johnson in Davidson asking him to come and work for him. One of Raeford's friends knew Mr. Johnson and had recommended Raeford to him. Once Raeford graduated from barber school, he went to work in Davidson.

Raeford working in Davidson

photograph courtesy of James Raeford


Raeford arrived in Davidson on his birthday on October 15,1957. Mr. Johnson is the man that Raeford refers to as his mentor. Mr. Johnson was a man that was well-respected by most, but was not afraid to speak his mind. The reason that some people disliked Mr. Johnson was because he was brutally honest about everything. But Mr. Johnson did have a caring side. An example of Mr. Johnson's charity can be seen in Raeford's recollection of the time that Mr. Johnson supplied Raeford with his first set of furniture for his apartment. Raeford says that Mr. Johnson did this out of the goodness of his heart.

Mr. Johnson is famous today for breaking the race barrier in Davidson by cutting a black boy's hair in his exclusively white barber shop. White Davidson College students and other white members from the community joined forces in picketing Mr. Johnson's shop to show their disapproval of segregation and Mr. Johnson's decision to remain segregated. Raeford recalls telling Mr. Johnson that if he did not begin cutting the hair of African Americans, he was going to quit. Raeford needed his job at Mr. Johnson's barber shop dearly, but he felt that he could not put up with the discrimination much longer. The following Friday, Mr. Johnson finally decided to take Raeford's advice and give into the pressure. Raeford said that Mr. Johnson's biggest fear was having his white customers turn against him, which Mr. Johnson believed would cause a decrease in clientele. And this is exactly what happened. Mr. Johnson ended up closing the shop in 1971 due to the large amount of upheavel the incident caused.

Click Here to See Article from Mountain Express Newspaper about Mr. Johnson incident

Raeford left the hair cutting industry in 1969 to try his hand at car sales. Raeford says that the "long hair fad" was "in" and business was bad. He went to work at a car dealership in Charlotte for five years. He then decided to make a move to a different dealership in Gastionia where one of his friends worked. Although Raeford explains that he made "a good amount of money saling," it turns out that sales was not the industry that James Raeford felt he was called to. Life outside the barber shop was not what he had envisioned. So he returned to Davidson where he took six months off to ride his Harley-Davidson Trike motorcycle "to enjoy life for a while." He finally decided that he had better get back to work. So he renewed his barber license and began cutting hair at Potts Barber Shop in Davidson. He began working at the shop in 1976 and worked there for 22 years until an opportunity he could not pass up came along. Mr. Knox, the owner of a realty company on Main Street in Davidson, had a vacancy in his building that he was looking to fill. Raeford decided to take a shot at opening up his own shop. Needless to say, Raeford made the right decision. His shop on Main Street was doing so well after 15 years that he decided to open up another one. So he handed over the shop on Main Street to his son Ron and moved into his shop in Cornelius that he now runs. Raeford has now been barbering there for 4 and 1/2 years.


Then & Now:

Main Street Davidson in 1961

photograph courtesy of Davidson Archives- photograph # 29-0104


Main Street Davidson Today

photograph courtesy of Ronnie Shore



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The text, video, audio, and website are the result of interviews conducted by Ronnie Shore,
Davidson College Class of 2006, in the Fall of 2005.
© 2005 Kristi S. Multhaup, Ph.D. | Davidson College | Davidson, NC 28035 | Phone: 704.894.2008
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