Honoring Black History Week #2: Black Owned Barbershops & Salons

February 11, 2021

Since the turn of the 19th century, beauty salons and barber shops have served as special places among African Americans. They have been places not only to get hair care services, but locations where black people could talk about issues of importance in the community. There were spaces where customers played games such as chess, cards, and dominoes, while having conversations about local gossip, politics, and community affairs. Over the years, beauty salons and barber shops have come to provide a unique social function. Scholars often cite these establishments as “sanctuaries” for black people. In honor of Black History Month we profile four legendary Black barbershop and salon owners.

William Campbell
Monk’s Barber Shop

William (Monk) Campbell, 84, has been cutting hair for more than 60 years. Since 1981, he has been the owner and head barber at Monk’s Barber Shop. William said his grandmother, Bessie Campbell, read a detective story in which the lead character was named “Monk.” William said she began calling him by that name when he was a young child and he hasn’t been able to shake it, so he named his shop after it.

William is a self-confessed jazz fanatic and inside the shop, William has decorated the place to resemble a barber shop from the era when jazz was king. Most of the antiques, including the chairs and cash register, are still fully operable. In addition to himself, William employs two other barbers, but since each chair is located in its own cubicle, the experience feels more relaxing and private. William said he often plays traditional jazz music through the sound system in the shop.

Back in the day, when the Green Bay Packers played in Milwaukee, William said he would often cut the hair of Willie Davis, Willie Wood and other Lombardi-era African American Packer players. He often cut hair for Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as well as many other African American baseball players. He also cut hair for many of the African American players at Marquette University during the 1970s when the school won or was a finalist in several NCAA basketball championships.

William is the older of two children born to Charity (Sisemore) and William Campbell. The family moved from Decatur, AL to Milwaukee when William was about seven years old. Both of his parents worked for the Seidel-Thiele Tannery Company. William attended North Division High School and enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1953, receiving an honorable discharge in 1957. One of the two buddies with whom he enlisted, Joe Sellers, convinced William that he should attend barber school. He received his degree from Milwaukee Vocational School (now MATC).

Joe Sellers’ mother, Mildred, was the first woman in the state of Wisconsin to receive a barber’s license. She owned a shop on 14th Street and Walnut and William worked for her for more than 15 years. He then purchased a location on Green Bay Avenue near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in partnership with her, but the city of Milwaukee bought that property prompting his move to the current location at 4394 North 27th Street after about three years.

From 1977 to 1997, William held a full-time job with the Miller Brewing Company. For the first seven years, he worked the third shift at Miller and would then cut hair. When he was promoted to first shift, he had other barbers in charge of the shop until his shift ended. William has six children: Anthony Clark, Todd Campbell, Rodney Campbell, Mark Campbell, Tony Campbell and Shela (Adams) Penn. Rodney is senior pastor at Crossing Jordan Church in Milwaukee.

Monk’s Barber Shop has been closed for renovations since November 17, 2018 after a fire caused by a defective space heater in one of the upstairs apartments. Fortunately no one was injured, but the only electricity currently being supplied to the building is by generators that William is running to keep the pipes from freezing. He said everything is on schedule for the renovated barber salon to reopen in February. He dismissed his current problem as a minor setback.

“I’m 84 years old,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot during that time.” William is a 2019 Black Excellence Urban Entrepreneur honoree.

Gladys Weston
Gladys and the Clips Beauty Salon

The beauty shop is one of the major cornerstones in the Black community. Black hair care does booming business even during gloomy economic times. Gladys (Williams) Weston, Gladys and the Clips (GATC) salon owner, has successfully kept her doors opened for 33 years. The salon is located at 6937 W. Fond du Lac Avenue, on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

Gladys knew that she wanted to become a beautician ever since she was a young girl in her hometown, Helena, AR. She shared, “I was always combing someone’s hair during my lunch breaks when I attended Lakeview High School.” Gladys said that she wanted everyone around her to look pretty. Following high school, that desire led her to attend the Deluxe Beauty School in Pine Bluff, AR. In 1963, she was licensed in the state of Arkansas to style hair and to open her first salon.

After two years of operating her own salon, she moved to Milwaukee, WI to seek more professional and personal opportunities. When first arriving, Gladys made a career change and worked for MGIC Mortgage Co., for 14 years. By 1979, Gladys could no longer ignore her passion for hair so she attended and graduated from IBA School of Cosmetology-Milwaukee. That same year, she received a beautician license from the state of Wisconsin. In 1983, the state licensed her to own and operate Gladys and the Clips salon.

As the owner, Gladys oversees customer service for GATC. She strives to provide her customers with excellent hair care services and products while they relax in a pleasant atmosphere. Her salon remains competitive by offering weaves, waves, relaxers, natural hair services, eyebrow shaping plus hair cutting and coloring. Unlike most of the 200 Black hair salons in Milwaukee, she still offers a good old fashioned “press & curl.” Gladys, who usually styles 15 heads a day herself, stated, “I have been doing hair for 53 years and I still love it.” Her clients have often told her that she is like a psychologist because she really listens to them. Gladys admits that being a good listener, so that customers can share their hairstyling goals plus vent, is the key to her success.

Gladys is also responsible for the overall management of her business and staff. She ensures that her stylists have up-to-date licenses and the training needed to achieve the highest level of professionalism. She also develops and mentors them in salon management. Currently eight of the former stylists she mentored own their own salons.

“It has been very important for me to have a good support team,” she stated. That team includes her husband Alphonse Weston, daughter Stacy Theus and grandson Ashunti (Putt) Daniels. Stacy is a teacher and hairstylist working beside her mother at GATC. Gladys says her daughter’s loving care has been extremely valuable. In addition, Mr. and Mrs. Daniels always made sure she has a homemade meal. The homemade dressing was always on time. She has been blessed in so many ways by many of her friends and clients. She especially appreciates the incredible support from friends Mae Ollie Dotson and Marilyn Hampton.

Gladys continues to be active in church and community service. She is a member of Progressive Baptist Church and frequently visits nursing homes to style residents’ hair. Gladys explained “Making the ladies look pretty seems to make them feel so much better!” Finally, Gladys has a desire to continue to mentor and encourage other women.

Gladys is a 2017 Black Excellence Minority Business honoree.

Ruby Jackson
Trendsetters Salons & Boutique Ltd.

Ruby Jackson was born in Memphis, TN and raised in Chicago Illinois. She met and married W.R. Jackson while she was in college. They are proud parents of three wonderful children, DeJuan, Kelly and Karissa Jackson.

She won a scholarship to beauty school and was the first place winner for the Wisconsin Cosmetology Association and many other hair styling competitions. After she and her family relocated to Milwaukee, WI, Ruby worked for Glemby International at the downtown Boston Store Beauty Salon. She was promoted to manager and asked to open and manage their new salon at the Northridge Mall. She was selected and sent to New York to become an International Trainer.

Shortly after, she was asked by Governor Tony Earl to serve on the Wisconsin Cosmetology Examining Board. She was elected by the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology as the third district director.

In 1980, she opened Trendsetters Salons & Boutique Ltd., located at 2119 W. Capitol Dr. and 4734 W. Lisbon Ave. Ruby is a 1998 Black Excellence Minority Business honoree.

Sidney Fumbanks
Sid’s Shear Magic Hairstyles

In 1975, Sidney moved to Atlanta, Georgia and worked at Melvin’s Hairstyles located across street from Morehouse College and Spelman College.

After one year in Georgia, Sidney moved back to Milwaukee and now works parttime. Sidney’ son, Anthony and grandson, Antonio picked up the barbering skills and opened their own shop along with three stylists after working with Debra Holliman of Deb’s Special Image and Chuck at Chuck’s Barbershop and the late Moses Tatum. The Fumbank’s Barbershop is located on 13th and Atkinson Avenue.