There were many times I ran across an older man always wearing an earth-toned blazer with a buttons adorning his lapel. This man was James Armstrong, a barber in Birmingham, Alabama that was a part of the Civil Rights Movement during its most turbulent hours.
I can remember him, during my time working with the NAACP as an undergrad, I would see him at various civil rights events, but I never knew exactly who he was. I knew that he was important to the Movement, but did not know his story. I could have stopped and asked questions but I never got the opportunity.
He owned a barber shop on 8th Avenue in downtown Birmingham, where many civil rights leaders would come to get shaped up during their stay in Birmingham, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was also the foot soldier that carried the American flag across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, AL on Bloody Sunday, when Alabama State Troopers beat marchers as they crossed the bridge on their way to Montgomery.
During the 40th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday, I remember seeing him in Selma, AL. Myself, along with a friend from the NAACP who passed away the following night, marched at the head of the march. He was there.
There is a film, Barber of Birmingham, that details his life and how his contributions to the Movement coincides with the election of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama. Armstrong passed away within a year after the election of Obama in 2009, but this film serves as a monument to his legacy and how a regular man can have such a significant impact.
The film is premiering in Alabama and has already been shown at the Sundance Film Festival and other film events around the world.
Go to barberofbirmingham.com for more information about the film.
(2014 Update: The film received an Academy Award nomination and was broadcast on PBS)