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1915. Henry Wayne Robbins’ barber shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Meet James C. Craig, a barber from Grand Rapids, Michigan in the late 1800s. He is an African-American man who immigrated to the city in 1871. Amazed at his success during the late 19th and early 20th centuries a newspaper editor inquired about the man, and Mr. Craig replied to him, telling his story in his words.

“I was born in the city of Louisville, Kentucky on the second day of April 1849. I was a slave until 1862. I followed the 23rd Regiment of Michigan in 1864 throughout the southern states and left them at [in] Atlanta, Georgia. Then I came to Flint, Michigan with Captain George Buckingham. He was sick. I then learned the barber trade in the year 1865. Then in the year 1868, I went to Battle Creek, Michigan. I lived there until 1870 and went into business for myself. I did not meet with success as I hoped. In 1871, I came to Grand Rapids and opened up business again as a barber. I am pleased to tell you that I have made it a success this time. My place of business is 70 Canal Street. On October 28, 1884, I was appointed the honorary commissioner of the 5th District of the World’s Fair at New Orleans.”-James C. Craig (1)

This biography is modest because it tells the story of Mr. Craig’s life of perseverance and determination but it does not include information about his membership and participation in African-American (men-only) organizations. His collection does contain clippings of meetings and notes that suggest he was interested in the quality of life of fellow African-American citizens and their fight for equal rights in Grand Rapids. How active he was in these memberships or the privileges they might have given him are not known at this time. Mr. Craig’s commitment to his business and networking through memberships did distinguish him as a gentleman of his class and race. Additional research is needed to understand how if any of his contributions, his legacy, and his life helped influence the African-American community of Grand Rapids as well as the dream of equal rights for everyone in America. (2)

1. Finding aid for the James C. Craig collection Collection 183 Finding aid prepared by Lynn Eleveld … Finding aid for the James C. Craig collection Collection 183 http://grplpedia.grpl.org/wiki/images/7/7b/183.pdf

2. Jelks, Randal Maurice. African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois, 2006. Print.

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