This week, Chicago’s South Side remembered the life of James G. Coleman.
Described as a father figure by those who knew him, he ran Coleman Brothers Barber Shop on 68th Street and Stony Island Avenue for more than 50 years.
He died last week at the age of 88.
WBEZ visited the shop to hear stories of the barber’s life and legacy.
Wheeler Coleman on his father’s work ethic and impact on the community
“My dad worked 13-14 hour days. When I hear people tell stories about my dad, they say ‘Hey, your father was a father figure for me.’ My dad wanted a welcoming environment where people can come in and express their opinions with others and learn from others. Any given day they would have conversations about the world and they would solve a lot of the world’s problems.
“He would want all of us to continue the legacy if possible, continue to have an impact on the community at large, touching individuals one person at a time.”
Employee Jeffrey Crenshaw on learning from Coleman
“I was nervous because I just moved to Chicago, I didn’t know anyone around here. I told him, ‘Could you give me a shot?’ and he did. He looked like a king sitting back here.
“When I was in school I cut my hand [on a straight razor.] So I was shying away from the razor, you know. He said, ‘Hey if you’re going to be here, you’ve got to use the razor.’ So I stepped outside and I pulled it together. I would just sit here and watch him. I learned so much from this guy, not just cutting hair, you know. How to be a man.”
Customer and former WBEZ host Richard Steele on the barber shop as a community center
“Saturday, all day long, it was the place to be to have conversations about politics, sports. Switch that around: sports first, then politics and race relations in Chicago.
“I think it’s an opportunity to actually communicate one-to-one, face-to-face. And I think that’s important. We should continue to have that. About this shop in particular, I don’t know what the plans are, but I really hope the shop stays open and the tradition continues.”
These interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.