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James Guilford

James Edward Guilford, Jr. was a master barber, hair stylist and entrepreneur, who started cutting hair at the age of twelve. He was a living legend in the lower Roxbury neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts where he maintained an art studio, continuing his love for painting. He also played golf.

Guilford was born at home in Boston, Massachusetts on October 7, 1911. His mother, Nancy (Haskins) Guilford migrated from Lynchburg, Virginia and his father, James, from Petersburg, Virginia around 1910. He attended Boston public schools and completed his studies at the prestigious Boston Latin School in 1928. He was the only African American on the thirty-two-member track team at the Latin School in 1926. Later, he studied at Northeastern University School of Law, Wilfred’s Academy of Beauty Culture, and the Lee Institute of Real Estate. Throughout his teenage years, Guilford worked in barbershops after school and during the summers. He was the youngest of three siblings and his earnings as a junior barber helped his family through the Depression. He opened and managed his own shop - Dunbar Barbers from 1934 to 1942.

As a barber from 1923 until 1979, with three years in the military fighting in the Pacific during World War II and as the proprietor after the war of Jimmy Guilford’s Men’s Hairstyling Salon on Tremont Street, Guilford catered to all classes and especially to Boston’s black elite. His customers included Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Jackie Robinson, Oscar Peterson, Sugar Ray Robinson and Jack Johnson.

From 1962 to 1963, Guilford was the President of the Associated Master Barbers of Massachusetts, which included white and black barbers. He was the first African American elected to this position.

As a professional artist, Guilford also received recognition. He exhibited widely and was a founding member and a president of the Boston Afro-American Artists, Inc. He was a member of the Piano Craft Guild Artists’ Association, where he maintained a studio. Many of his drawings, oils and watercolors are in private collections. His oil painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. hangs in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Guilford was among the leading 20th century black artists in Boston whose creative works have educated and contributed to the arts culture of the city.

Guilford was the father of three - Marcia Davenport, Jeanne Eason and James Guilford, III.

Guilford passed away on December 16, 2015.

Accession Number

A2006.067

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/7/2006

Last Name

Guilford

Maker Category
Occupation
Schools

Boston Latin School

Lafayette Elementary School

Hyde School

Boston Central Adult High School

Wilfred's Academy of Hair and Beauty Culture

Search Occupation Category
First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Boston

HM ID

GUI04

Favorite Season

None

State

Massachusetts

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

10/7/1911

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

None

Death Date

12/16/2015

Short Description

Painter and barber James Guilford (1911 - 2015 ) was the owner of Jimmy Guilford's Hairstyling Salon, which catered to Boston's black elite, entertainers and athletes such as Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington and Sugar Ray Robinson. Guilford was also the first African American president of the Associated Master Barbers of Massachusetts. Guilford passed away on December 16, 2015.

Employment

Dunbar Barbers

Jimmy Guilford’s Men’s Hairstyling Salon

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Guilford's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Guilford recalls his early school experiences in Roxbury, Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Guilford describes his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Guilford describes his father

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Guilford recalls his first experience working in a barbershop

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Guilford remembers playing in Madison Park in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Guilford recalls his experience at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Guilford explains the geography of the South End and Roxbury neighborhoods in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Guilford talks about his children

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Guilford remembers his newspaper stand business

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Guilford remembers becoming first chair barber at age sixteen

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Guilford describes life as a barber in the early 20th century

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Guilford recalls his work with the Associated Master Barbers of America

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Guilford remembers his presidency of the Associated Master Barbers of Massachusetts in 1962

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Guilford describes his U.S. military service in World War II

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - James Guilford remembers George Watson, who saved his life in the Pacific Theater of World War II

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Guilford remembers opening Jimmy Guilford's Men's Hairstyling Salon in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Guilford recalls briefly attending a beauty college

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Guilford remembers Jackie Robinson

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Guilford remembers Jack Johnson

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Guilford recalls the introduction of chemical hair relaxers

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Guilford remembers famous people whose hair he has cut

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Guilford describes the hairstyling innovations he introduced in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Guilford remembers his first painting

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - James Guilford remembers his work with Boston Afro American Artists

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - James Guilford remembers losing his barber shop to Boston Redevelopment Authority

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - James Guilford explains how he has led a long and healthy life

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - James Guilford reflects upon his life

Tape: 3 Story: 13 - James Guilford describes how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

3$6

DATitle
James Guilford remembers becoming first chair barber at age sixteen
James Guilford remembers his presidency of the Associated Master Barbers of Massachusetts in 1962
Transcript
So you continued into your twenties and up until the [Great] Depression, you continued in barbering, right?$$Oh, yes. I continued barbering. And the thing of it is, I stayed--after I--let me think. After, after--oh, I went into the [U.S. military] service. I bought the shop from the Challengers Club, and I stayed in business from 1934 to 1942.$$And whose shop did you buy?$$From the Challengers Club, the businessmen club. See, they bought the shop from Mr. Grey [ph.]. You asked me about Mr. Grey.$$Yeah, um-hm.$$Mr. Grey had three shops.$$Yeah.$$And he had one in Dartmouth Street, then he had two on Tremont Street [Boston, Massachusetts]. And Mr. Holloway [ph.] had one and Mr. Poole [ph.] had one. But Mr. Poole committed suicide on the shop which is between--in the 900 block just, just before--it's between--well, it's, it's--well, between Shag Taylor's drugstore [Lincoln Pharmacy] and Hammond Street. Shag Taylor had a very famous store, liquor and pharmacy, on the corner of Kendall [Street] and Tremont Street. Well, well, his--well, anyway, Mr. Poole committed suicide and that--so they did away with that shop, and he came back into--what he did, he gave up his shop on Dartmouth Street which was being--oh, well, he was losing business, 'cause it, it--the area was just--gentrification was taking over, and his customers went--even though he had all the railroad men, the people, Pullman porters and all that as customers, Red Caps, the trade was dwindling, so he brought 'em back into the lower Roxbury [Boston, Massachusetts], and he set up a shop at 912 Tremont Street; that's where I first started working for him. He had put his (unclear) shop there. Mr. Grey was a very distinguished looking man. He was a mulatto, short, and had a very booming voice. And so he was quite a person. He belonged to the sportsman's club, and he was quite, you know, a person among--and as a socialite. And he was from Petersburg, Virginia, also by the way. That's how I happened to get in with him, because my father [James Guilford, Sr.] was from Petersburg, and they knew one another. So Mr. Grey allowed me to come in there to work after school, and I was--by that time, I was sixteen years old. See, I was a--I was a really accomplished barber, because I'd been trained by Mr. [Robert] Gordon [ph.], then I left Mr. Gordon with a man by the name of George King [ph.] who came out of North Carolina. He was the one that was interested in me. And so he took a job in Everett [Massachusetts], and went to--we went--so he took a job--the shop was on Tileston [Street] and Main Street in Everett. And it was strictly a mixed business there, because Italians and the blacks all were mixed in together, so that's where I had a chance on learning how to cut all types of hair, straight hair, curly hair, any kind of hair, and worked on the both people, you know, white and black. And so by that time, I was--I used to go there after school, so by that time I was sixteen years old. But I didn't like it out there, because there wasn't enough activity for me, see, because any time you work in the neighborhood barbershop, you have to work--during the morning hours, nothing's happening. Then the business comes in when the people get from work and come in or those who are there during the day are just maybe students or something like that. But in Boston [Massachusetts] and Lower Roxbury [Boston, Massachusetts], you open your door, people are scrambling to get in, so I was used to that, see, from Mr. Gordon's shop where I learned and also--where Mr. Gordon--so I knew what was happening before I was in town. So I told my boss, "I don't want to stay out here," so he said, "Well, go see Mr. Grey." So I went into Mr. Grey, and Mr. Grey gave me a chair in his shop. But the thing of it is, he had the first chair as the barber, as the owner. So I told him, I said, he wanted to put me in the back. I said, "No, I'm not going in the back. If I get the back, no one will know I'm here," (laughter). So he gave me--$$How many chairs did he have?$$Huh?$$How many chairs did he have?$$He had six chairs.$$Six?$$Yeah.$$Wow.$$Yeah, and then the thing--the story--those, those--I remember how bad and how bad looking this--that shop is after what's happening today. They had the bare wood floors which they kept oiled. Then, they had a big old back--big old belly--black belly stove that they used for heating purposes. And, all the furniture was just white and black, you know, white showcases and black--white chairs, big old white chairs with--but, so they had six of 'em. And, then--but they were lined up against the wall, but he had a huge window on the left. As you come in the door, it's--they--you'd be facing the barber chairs, but on the left was the window--the window which faced the street, and he had the first chair facing the street. So I told him, I said, "I'll come there and work if you give me the first chair," (laughter). He gave me the first chair. So I became an attraction, a young fellow, sixteen years old, working on the first chair in a barbershop. And I had all my schoolmates and everybody, girls and fellows would come in, and I'd cut their hair, and I was a very good barber, so I'd been taught, see (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Wow.$I became president of the Associated Master Barbers and Beauticians of Massachusetts [Associated Master Barbers of Massachusetts] in 1962.$$Now how long were you president?$$One year.$$One year, oh.$$Because I was supposed to go for two years but something happened; I'll tell you about that. But anyway (laughter), they--coming to the convention--$$How did--well, let me say, how did you get elected? People voted?$$No, they, they had delegates at the--at the national convention--$$And they--$$You had a--we'd have a state convention with the Association of Master Barbers [sic. Associated Master Barbers of America; Hair International], so I was the delegate for my chapter and--myself and Malik [ph.] who was a--who had a barbershop [Beau Nubian Brummel Tonsorial Emporium, Boston, Massachusetts]. His name was Reginald Johnson [Jr.] at the time. He became a Muslim and his name changed to Malik Kaluk [ph.], you know who I'm talking about, he had the (unclear) business.$$Yeah.$$So anyway, he and I were delegates and so they didn't want to put me on the ticket, because they said, "Well, if he gets elected to be fourth vice president, someday, he's gonna be president." So the fella by the name of Joe Barone [ph.] didn't want me to get on the ticket, because he was supposed to be a shoe-in, see? So--but there was another fellow by the name of-I don't have his name, just--he had a barbershop on Prospect Street in Cambridge [Massachusetts]. And he--I can't remember--I have his name in my book, but he was also a candidate. So we gave our votes to him. As a result, he won the election as president, and I got on the ticket as vice president. And so, anyway, Joe Barone, even though he got defeated over the years on account of what we did, we still became very good friends, but that was what happened. And so then--and, of course, what happened, everybody that stayed president, stayed in for a term of two years. So after two years went by on each election, I eventually became president.$$And what were your responsibilities as the president?$$Well, I'd oversee the--all the meetings and, and handle, you know, as a president, we--I'd shared all the public meetings, and then I visited all the various chapters, 'cause they'd have meetings or, or--$$Across the state?$$Oh, yeah, all the--they had chapters in all the cities, like Springfield [Massachusetts] had a chapter, Quincy [Massachusetts] had a chapter, you know?$$I see.$$Cambridge had a chapter. And then I'd visit all this--as the president, I'd visit all the--Lowell [Massachusetts] had a chapter. 'Cause Lowell was an incident, what really messed me up, because I went to Lowell to represent them at a convention they was having. They invited the--so they had all the people there for this assembly. And so, when I went there, they told me to sit on the floor with the president of the union. Well, the union and I are two different people. I'm--this chapter--I'm the president of the chapter that's giving the affair, so the master of ceremony was a national organizer, and I can't call his name right now, but anyway, he was a national organizer. So he, in turn, told me to sit on the floor with the president. So I said, "I'm not sitting on the floor." I said, "I'm gonna sit up there on the--on the--on the--on the roster [sic. rostrum], up on the platform with the rest of the officers of the chapter. I'm the president." So they had their wives and the only officers up there on the platform. Yet, I'm the president of the association on a national--on a state level, and I'm sitting on the floor, so I got up and walked away. I walk--I left. So when I left, they got--all got upset. So when I came back to the regular meetings for the election of the--of being reelected, they said, "You ain't gonna get elected [HistoryMaker] Mr. [James] Guilford," (laughter). I said, "So what?" It didn't bother me. But they didn't like me. They had a caucus in the hotel where they had the neighbor--had this bar set up, and they're telling everybody, "Don't vote for Mr. Guilford, don't vote for Guilford," so that's how I got defeated, so I only did one term. I missed out on my other, other term.$$I see.$$But they made a--they regretted it--$$Yeah.$$--afterwards. They apologized afterwards. That was something that they did.