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Early African American Barbers in Minneapolis


 William Goodridge (photo credit John Vincent Jezierski) 
Tales of Pioneer and Soldiers Cemetery By SUE HUNTER WEIR
184th in a series

Barbershops have long played a key role in African- American communities. In addition to providing gathering places, they have often provided a path to economic independence for African- American entrepreneurs. In “Cutting Across the Color Lines,” historian Quincy Mills noted that: “Barbers were members of the black middle class in the nineteenth century, and their shops were among the most numerous of black businesses in the 20th century.” Barbers were among the more prominent and most well respected members of the community. 

In the 1859 City Directory, Ralph T. Grey was listed as one of only six barbers in Minneapolis. He was the father of Toussaint L’Ouverture Grey, the first African-American child born in St. Anthony, and the son-in-law of William Goodridge, a barber and entrepreneur, who ran the Underground Railroad between York Pennsylvania and Philadelphia before the Civil War. 

Goodridge was one of the most successful African- American businessmen of his time. He used the knowledge that he gained as a barber to invest in real estate as well as a number of other business ventures and to use the profits from his businesses to further the cause of social justice. 

His involvement with the Underground Railroad is documented as early the Christiana Riots in 1851. Several of the fugitive slaves who were involved in that riot were smuggled across Pennsylvania on railroad cars owned by Mr. Goodridge during the first leg of their flight to Canada and freedom. Eight years later, Oliver Perry Anderson, a member of John Brown’s raiding party, hid in Goodridge’s home and office building until abolitionists thought it safe to move him to Philadelphia. Although Mr. Goodridge was very discrete about his activities, pro-slavery forces suspected his involvement. His home was under constant surveillance, and there were rumors of plots to kidnap him and take him to the South where he almost certainly would have been killed. Those threats coupled with personal and financial problems eventually forced him to leave Pennsylvania. 

In 1865, Mr. Goodridge moved from York to Minneapolis to live with his daughter, Emily, and her husband, Ralph Grey. The Greys, who had been in Minnesota since the late 1850s, were active members of the anti-slavery movement in Minnesota and were instrumental in helping a woman named Eliza Winston attain her freedom in 1860. 

Skilled barbers were in high demand and since the tools of their trade were relatively inexpensive and easily portable they were well positioned to relocate. By 1871, the city directory listed 28 barbers, 16 of them were African-American. Four of the African-American barbers listed, including Civil War veterans Henry (Sandy) Bruce and Woodford Anderson, are buried in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. 

Woodford Anderson is one of eight African-American Civil War veterans buried in Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery. His marker, which had been badly damaged, was replaced this past summer. New military markers were placed on the graves of three African-American soldiers whose graves had previously been unmarked. Other markers, which were broken or illegible, were replaced. As of 2020, each of the eight veterans’ graves is marked. 
Mr. Anderson worked as a barber. He was born in Kentucky in 1820 and served in Company D of the 17th U.S. Colored Troops. He died on June 19, 1908, from heart disease. He was 88 years, three months and nine days old. 

More than a dozen African- American barbers are buried in the cemetery. Those not previously mentioned are Joseph Black, Scott Cratic, Emanuel Hamilton, Isaiah Howard, Thomas Jefferson, Clenis W. Lee, David Lewis, George W. Minns and Samuel Williams. Undoubtedly there are others who have not yet been identified. This is very much a work in progress. [Note: Clenis Lee was also a Civil War veteran but moved to Minneapolis after the 1871 City Directory was published]. 

William Goodridge died on January 1, 1873, from “dropsy” (most likely congestive heart failure) at the age of 67. He was buried in the southwest corner of Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery next to his son, Glenalvin Goodridge, and his grandson, Toussaint Grey. Toussaint L’Ouverture Grey, named after the liberator of Haiti, was born in 1859 and died from heart disease on June 28, 1868, at the age of nine. 

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