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Extra: A Conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King’s Barber

Jerome Jones,



byJerome Jones

Malden Brothers Barbershop sits on Jackson St. in Centennial Hill, a once bustling neighborhood in Montgomery that catered to black citizens at a time when Montgomery was dominated by segregation.

Many of the most iconic figures of the civil rights movement were patrons.

Nelson Malden was Dr. King’s barber. He remembers their first meeting.

“I saw the blue Pontiac pull up in front of the shop, and I figured it must have been a customer coming to get a haircut. I looked at his head. I said, ‘Heck I can knock him out in 15 minutes,'” Malden said.

The man in that blue Pontiac would change the world.

“I asked him what was his name. He said Martin Luther King. I said, ‘Where you from?’ He said, Atlanta, Georgia. I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said, ‘I’m here to preach my crown sermon at Dexter.’ I said, ‘Oh good to meet you,'” Malden said about their first conversation.

It was 1954 when Malden first met Dr. King.  At the time, Malden was still a student at Alabama State University and King was  a rookie preacher taking his first assignment to pastor a church. Over the next eight years, what started as a haircut would develop into a friendship.

“The barbershop they always referred to as the black man’s country club. We talked about some of everything, you talk about religion, you talk about politics, sometimes you talk about sex,” Malden said.

The barbershop was a place of refuge, a place where fathers took their sons, and people left feeling empowered and enlightened. Dr. King and his family lived at 309 South Jackson Street, less than a block away from the barbershop.

“Everything is still basically the same. We’ve got pictures on the wall of some of the people that we accommodated,” he said.

Dr. King did more than just get his hair cut.

“He’d come down to the barbershop and do a little writing and sometimes do a little reading. We had a trash can in the back where he would sometimes throw away little notes he scribbled, and I said to myself, ‘Man, if I would have saved some of those notes, I could have brought everybody in Montgomery a Porsche,” Malden said.

Later, King became so recognizable that he traveled with security. Malden believes the security was provided by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration. But after delivering a speech denouncing the Vietnam War in 1967, the security disappeared.

“My brother asked him, ‘Where is your security now?’. We had never discussed security with him. That’s when he took his finger and said the man upstairs is with me now. That was the very last word I heard him say,” Malden remembers.

Exactly one year after his speech in New York City, King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

After his death, the civil rights act would become law and integration began. But Montgomery’s Centennial Hill community was falling into disrepair, and black-owned businesses struggled to keep up with their corporate competition.

“Reverend King said you better be careful what you ask for. You might get it. So we asked for integration, but we had no idea the impact it would have on black business,” Malden said.

Over the years, Malden complied dozens of photographs of King and other prominent figures from the movement who were customers of the barbershop.

Last year, he donated 16 of the priceless relics to the Smithsonian Institution.

Today, people are still fighting for social equality and civil rights. Would King be proud or disappointed?

“There’s no question the whole country made progress, but I think he would be very disturbed to see what’s going on in Washington right now,” Malden said.

Dr. King pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist Church from 1954 to 1960. Malden Brothers Barbershop is still open in its original location on the ground floor of the Ben Moore Hotel building.



For the full interview with Nelson Malden,


  • :30 Centennial Hill
  • 1:30 Ben Moore Hotel
  • 2:15 Martin Luther King Jr.
  • 4:00 Barbershop Conversations
  • 6:00 MLK Frustrated
  • 7:25 Smithsonian Institute
  • 9:00 Montgomery Improvement Association
  • 10:40 If they were here now
  • 14:30 The Fall of Centennial Hill
  • 17:30 MLK in the Barbershop

Categories:Montgomery,News,News Extras,News Video

Tags:centennial hill,civil rights,dexter avenue king memorial baptist church,Martin Luther King Jr.,Montgomery Alabama,montgomery improvemement association,segregation,selma


“Daddy, why does that man have such funny hair?”

If she wasn’t but a couple years old, the fact that she didn’t know who that man was would have caused me great shame in my parenting skills. “That man” was Martin Luther and my daughter had noticed his funny hair style. “Why in the world would he cut his hair that way?”

At the timeI simply told her that it was because he was a monk and that is what monks do. But soon her curiosity had become my own. Why did that man have such funny hair? Where did this practice come from and what was it supposed to represent?

If you are inspired by Luther’s sweet hair cut and you want to go to your barber the name for this unique hair style is “tonsure”. To be tonsured means to be sheared. There were three forms of tonsure. The Oriental—which purportedly followed the practice of Paul and was practiced by the Eastern Orthodox required the shaving of the whole head. The Roman—which we are likely most familiar with and which graced Luther’s head, required the shaving of the top of the head.

The practice is quite old. It’s at least as old as 633 because there the Celtic form (the third form) was considered unorthodox by the Council of Toledo. (So apparently teenagers weren’t the first ones to wear unorthodox hairstyles). The Council of Trent, as to be predicted, actually dates the practice back to the apostle Peter. This, though, isn’t very likely as the early disciples likely wouldn’t have worn a hairstyle which would have immediately invited persecution. Some sort of the practice likely began around the time of Augustine and slowly morphed into the accepted form that we see demanded by the Council of Toledo.

But why? Why cut your hair this way?

Not every believer was to have this done. Some upon initiation would have a cross cut into their hair. When monks would receive their orders then they would have their hair cut in this fashion. It was a way of setting them apart. Some believed it marked them off as a slave of Christ, as slaves would often endure a similar hair cutting. Others saw this as a religious offering—a sacrifice which showed their dedication to Christ. We aren’t exactly certain of the origin but we do know that it was used as an initiation into being a monk.

Bede, a 7th century monk, taught that it modeled the crown of thorns which both Peter and Christ had taken. That which the world meant to shame them is now worn as a symbol of pride. It was also to model the Christ who wore a crown of thorns. The monk, above all, was to live a life which constantly reflected that of Christ.

So this is why Luther had “such funny hair”. He was a monk at the time of his conversion and many pictures of Luther show him with his cowl (hood) and tonsure. It’s interesting that not long after Luther’s conversion he eschewed the tonsure but hung onto the cowl (hood). The key thing for the reformer was not outward appearance but the heart. A monk wasn’t made a monk by his outward garb but by his faithfulness to Christ. Therefore, in his mind it didn’t matter if he wore the cowl and the tonsure.

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Martin Luther's iconic hairstyles

Everything you need to know about his classic look.

First of all, how do you like his famous look? Vote right here:

Check out Martin Luther's haircuts throughout his career:

Martin Luther had various hairstyles during his lifetime. He became famous as an excellent linguist, translator, theologian, writer, professor, monk, lawyer, Bible translator and hymnwriter. However, the seminal figure in Protestant Reformation was mainly known for his incomparable looks and his likable character. Before his tragic death at the age of 63 he was again and again in the spotlight of the press because of his marvelous hairstyles. Check out Martin Luther's former looks in the image box below:

Which hairstyles would have looked good on him?

Only people with an IQ above 160 know what these 5 celebrities have in common with Martin Luther.

How to get hair like Martin Luther?

Do you have a step-by-step tutorial on how to look like Martin Luther? Share your thoughts and experiences!

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Abbot - the chief monk,the father of the community (abbess in a nunnery).

Almoner - looked after the poor who visited the abbey (giving alms).

Brother - all monks were addressed as brothers.

Bursar - in charge of financial accounts.

Cellarer - in charge of food and general provisions.

Chancellor - in charge of the library, and the copying by hand of books.

Cowl - hood

Crozier - ornamental shepherd's crook, carried by abbot (or bishop).

Girdle - rope belt, with attached crucifix.

Habit - the loose robe worn by all monks.

Infirmarian - in charge of medical care, particularly herbal medicine.

Insignia - general word for ceremonial clothing and objects.

Hospitaller - looked after the guesthouse - no visitor to the abbey was denied hospitality.

Mitre - ceremonial hat worn by abbot (or bishop).

Novice - a beginner; someone who has recently joined a monastery. Novice monks spent two or three years in training, before deciding whether to take their final vows.

Precentor - in charge of music; the abbey choir-master.

Prior - assistant to the abbot, or chief of a small monastery (prioress in a nunnery).

Sacrist - looked after the monastery's treasures, and vestments.

Tonsure - shaved hair-style, leaving a circle of hair (like a crown of thorns).

Vestments - ceremonial clothing worn sometimes during church services.

Daily Timetable | Rules for Monks | Glossary

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Hair martin luther

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Dr. Martin Luther King - Black Is Beautiful!

Yes, yes. The jacket was taken off, it only interfered. The Master's hand dived under the skirt, passed along the leg and slowly crawled upward, to where the heat was already.

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