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Learning a trade

This is another installment in an ongoing series marking the 50-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.


Eddie Stubbs had just finished clipping the beard of a redheaded, freckled classmate when his next customer trudged up to his chair at the Charleston School of Beauty Culture: a reluctant boy of 12, whose mini-Afro had obviously not seen the clippers for a while.

“What are you gettin’ done today, big guy?” Stubbs inquired, pumping the chair higher for his short client.

“Fade,” the boy said, resignedly. Stubbs knows that cut; most of his black classmates have one. He guessed another thing correctly: “Your mom made you come get your hair cut.”

Stubbs began shearing away, his trained eye detecting the beginnings of dry scalp. “What kinda hair grease your mom got at the crib?” He went on to instruct the boy on the fine art of hair maintenance: a good shampoo, a little hair grease, a head scarf to encourage “the little wave you got going on up here.”

Stubbs is 44. This is the first time he has been to college. Like many blacks, he chose a career college, rather than a more traditional four-year college.

Private, for-profit colleges — the Charleston School of Beauty Culture, West Virginia Junior College and the like — enroll only 8 percent of all college students nationwide. But they account for almost 18 percent of all black college students, according to federal statistics.

Such colleges often offer a quicker, cheaper, more job-targeted education than traditional colleges, which is important to a minority group that is disproportionately poor.

Antonio Johnson, 27, is a barber student like Stubbs. His wife is studying to be a paralegal at nearby West Virginia Junior College.

“She can get a degree in two years,” Johnson said. It’s convenient, too: Both colleges are in the city — as for-profit career colleges tend to be — so Johnson’s wife can take the bus to her early classes.

Johnson has another year to go in his 14-month curriculum.

“I started cutting hair probably when I was 13,” said Johnson, who is originally from Mississippi.

“It was cheaper than going to the barbershop to cut my own. ... I always cut my little brother’s hair, my friends in the neighborhood, I cut everybody’s hair.”

The Charleston school is the state’s only certified barber school. Because barbering is the top profession for blacks — more than 40 percent of barbers are black, according to the U.S. Census — the Charleston school is very popular.

“One of my homeboys, he drives from Beckley every day” to attend barber school, Johnson said. “Tolls, parking, gas $2 a gallon. It’s the only barber school in the state. We have no choice.”

Of the 39 barber trainees at the school, “41 percent are African-American,” said Judy Hall, the school’s owner.

“We have a shorter-duration course, which is helpful, because a lot of them are single parents,” she said. “We offer a little bit more flexible hours, if they need them.”

The federal government collects statistics every year on the number of black students at each college. An analysis of West Virginia’s colleges shows that, although the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation 50 years ago, de facto segregation lingered much longer:

s In 1980, West Virginia’s two former “Negro colleges” — West Virginia State College and Bluefield State College — enrolled one of every three black students in the state. Only one in 10 black students attended the state’s flagship school, West Virginia University.

s By 2001, WVU had outstripped historically black WVSC as the No. 1 enroller of black students. The flagship university now accounts for twice as many of the state’s black students — nearly one in five — as it did 20 years ago.

s Of the colleges in West Virginia that enroll a higher-than-average percentage of blacks, 70 percent are career colleges.

s Not surprisingly, colleges that are close to large black populations enroll more black students. The top seven colleges that enroll the highest percentage of black students are clustered in just three counties with higher-than-average black populations: Berkeley, Kanawha and Raleigh.

s Cost matters. Most colleges with high black enrollments charge less than the state’s median college cost.

What matters most to Eddie Stubbs is the good feeling he gets from learning a trade he enjoys.

“I like cutting hair,” he said contentedly as he clipped away. “Somebody comes in here, maybe I brighten their day a little bit.”

And it’s a chance for Stubbs, a first-time college student at age 44, to subtly nudge black youths in the right direction.

“It still nice outside?” he chatted nonchalantly to his young customer. “Nice enough to play a little basketball, football ... What you gonna do later today — after you finish your homework?”

To contact staff writer Tara Tuckwiller, use e-mail or call 348-5189.


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