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Short version:

  • In 1964 Martin Luther King, Jr was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.
  • In February he spoke at Drew University (I would attend 23 years later).
  • You can hear his speech here: http://www.drew.edu/about/history/celebrating-dr-king%E2%80%99s-legacy
  • An interesting point about the speech: it was given 5 days before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed. The speech ends with a call to action similar to what we hear today ("call your congressperson").
  • I heard a recording of that speech when I was working on the New Jersey LGBT civil rights bill in 1991. It changed my life.
  • A few months later, in July 1964, protests broke out in the town because of a racist barbershop. Soon after NJ passed a law saying that barber's could not discriminate.

Now you can hear Martin Luther King, Jr's speech:

Longer version:

In 1964, in Madison, New Jersey: So, this racist barber refused service to black people. He didn't have the balls to admit publicly that he was a racist so he cowardly claimed "I just don't have the tools or knowledge to cut that kind of hair".

It was not housing, however, but haircuts that brought Madison to national attention in the spring of 1964. When a black man was refused service in a local barbershop (on the grounds that the white barber did not know how to cut black hair), Drew [University] students and others began picketing the barbershop. It was not long before national television networks sent their cameras and the "barbershop incident" was in full bloom. There was pressure exerted on Grace Church to take some official stance, but action came from Drew students. The Drew civil rights group which had been using meeting rooms in Grace was the subject of an extensive discussion at a vestry meeting
quoted from http://www.gracemadison.org/History.aspx

Later that year New Jersey passed a law that to receive a barber license you had to be able to cut hair of white and black people, thus removing this frivolous and cowardly excuse.

While I can find a number of accounts of "the barbershop controversy" I can't find a single one that points out that MLK, Jr. had given a major speech just a few months earlier. I would think there would be a connection.

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Wow. I did not know about the NJ law. That's good work on someone's part.

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