LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - For decades, a Louisville barber shop owner changed hairstyles while also making change in his community with the power of his words.
In west Louisville, a “safe zone” was situated across from Victory Park near the California neighborhood, as 80-year-old Milton Haskins described it; Haskins Barber Shop was more than just a good place for a quick haircut.
“It was a place to solve problems,” the barber told WAVE 3 News.
Hot topics flowed inside the business Haskins said he didn’t initially want. Despite growing up shining shoes at a barber shop, he said he ran away from the idea of ever going back. Eventually, Haskins managed to graduate high school with little money, but with a plethora of skill.
“When I went to school, I already knew how to cut hair,” Haskins said. “Just trying it with different friends.”
In 1964, he opened his barber shop Haskins on South 22nd Street.
“That was something you would stick your chest out for,” he said, describing how it felt giving his clients fresh haircuts and shaves.
His clients included neighborhood comedians, politicians and athletes like Artis Gilmore, Joe Hamilton and Walt Simon.
“Ernie Jasmin, he used to come to my shop all the time,” Haskins said.
Jasmin was the first African American chief prosecutor of Kentucky. Haskins joined his task force.
In Haskins’ shop, he said, each customer signed an understood contract of respect.
“You could be inside, and what was going on outside, you couldn’t believe it,” Haskins said. “During those times, there was a lot of marching going on.”
In Frankfort, Haskins was with former Kentucky Governor Wendell Ford in 1968 when he signed the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, ethnicity and religion.
However, the barber said moments of change in Louisville and Kentucky were not always celebrated.
“They were throwing rocks and beating up people and stuff like that,” Haskins said. “The other people, white people.”
He worked in the west Louisville shop for 36 years before opening another location in Jeffersonstown. That’s where he first saw change when his first white customer sat down in his chair in the year 2000.
“He came in with his whole family,” Haskins said.
Change was created under smocks and clippers for decades in his shops, but unlike every different haircut, Haskins said he has lived and operated under one rule.
”Respect that you got [is the] respect that you gave,” Haskins said.
He made a name for himself that was passed on to his son another face familiar to the community: WAVE 3 News Sports anchor and reporter Kendrick Haskins.
”I cut Kendrick’s hair all up until he started going bald,” Haskins said.
The 80-year-old said if he were in better health he would still be working in his shops, safe places he said are filled with respect and important conversations.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE HASKINS SHOP?
Haskins first opened his West Louisville shop in 1964 and closed it about 36 years later. After the doors shut it locked in decades of Black history.
Haskins cut the hair of the first African American chief prosecutor. He was there for the moments after Martin Luther King Jr. visited Louisville and returned to the shop after standing alongside Ford when the Fair Housing Act was signed.
From across the street, the building at 1009 S. 22nd Street looks similar in 2021 to 1964. However, now there is a new sign on the door “Exclusives Hair and Nail Salon,” owned by Shawenta Chappell.
“Everyone that stops by will be like ‘is Mr. Haskins still here?’ Or ‘does he still own the salon?’ Chappell said. “He has very good connection in the community.”
Women now line the walls men took over in the 60s.
Chappell said growing up she always saw the guys in the neighborhood make their way to Haskins as women got their hair done across the street.
She opened the salon with her mom four years ago and said she wants Haskins to know history will continue. “It means everything to me because sometimes we don’t always make it,” Chappell said. “So for this salon to still be up and running and for me to be the one [owning it] and my coworkers to still be here and keep it going and keep it great and give back to the community is a good thing.”
Chappell had a message for the man who started it all back in 1964. “We will not let you down,” Chappell said. “We will keep it going and keep it great and keep the legacy going.”