Segregation in the Berkshires in the Civil Rights Era

An article today in the Berkshire Edge reminded me of my experience in the summer of 1961. I guess my heightened sense of social justice came to me early in life. Within a couple of years, I would become a vegetarian, a pacifist, and a draft resister.

What was it like to be an African American in South Berkshire County Massachusetts in 1961? Couldn’t get a haircut in Lenox, Lee or Great Barrington.

Stockbridge is not mentioned, for a reason. I was a high school student at that time, working at the Red Lion Inn for the summer. One of my co-workers was black. Or perhaps he was a Negro. The language was starting to change. In any case, a small group of us, hearing about discrimination in nearby towns, decided to form our own sit-in at Billy Pierce’s barber shop on Main Street.

The plan was to have our black friend enter the shop, and one by one the rest of us would filter in and take up all the available chairs in the waiting area. If Billy declined to provide a haircut to our friend, we would all refuse to be next and simply take up all the space in the shop, effectively closing it down.

When the time came, Billy simply said, “Next!” and our black companion sat in the chair and the haircut started. At that point, I got up and said, “I’ll come back later when you’re not so busy!” and I left.

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