A plaque to be placed on an outside wall of the building at 18 Main Street, reads “Barber Hammond – an African American entrepreneur who bought property and opened his barber shop in 1880 on this site.”
Teacher Chris Baer (Technology, MVRHS) recently completed research on Barber Hammond after he discovered that he is distantly related to turn-of-last-century businessman
According to Mr. Baer, Mr. Hammond was born in Maryland before emancipation, so he was probably a slave as a child. After moving here he married a woman from Fall River who ended up working as a stewardess on the paddle ferryboat Monohansett. Mr. Hammond purchased his storefront at a public auction and operated a barber shop at the location for 40 years, even rebuilding the store after the great fire of 1883.
“Here was a man who had success in the African-American community,” said Ms. Weintraub. “With the Trail we’re presenting different parts of the tapestry of the history. It’s easy when you study African-American history to get caught up in the victim-hood. The nice thing about the Trail is that even the victims aren’t victims.”
Ms. Weintraub conceived the idea of the African-American History Trail in the early 90s when she was assigned a group of young children who were at risk for academic failure. She sought a way to engage the minority kids. “A lot of my teaching was around storytelling and role-playing,” she said. “At one point I realized that these kids needed their own history.”
The Heritage Trail has become is part of the MVRHS sophomore class history curriculum. Students study the people and events celebrated by the Trail and are assigned a relevant research project. Each year the kids take the tour of the Trail and finish the day with a ‘soul food’ lunch. Many of the students are involved in research and maintenance and participate in the dedications.
Ms. Weintraub stresses that the point of the project is to memorialize those who have made a difference, including the unsung heroes, and not just the lauded individuals of the black community.
In many communities, the hair cutting shop is a focal point for community talk. Often the local barber was referred to as “the mayor” – as he heard the same comments, complaints, and suggestions, and often in a more colorful tone, than actual politicians. “Barber” Hammond most probably discussed many island events and relationships with his patrons. He is a welcome man of character to the Trail archives.