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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
University of Florida
Oral History Program
Interviewer: Mrs. Clara R. Griffin
Interviewee: Joel Buchanan
January 17, 1984
B: Good afternoon, Mrs. Griffin. May I call you Clara, please?
B: Clara, where were you born?
G: I was born in Gainesville, Florida.
B: And your parents?
G: Mrs. Clara Hampton and Mr. Richard Hampton.
B: Brothers and sisters?
G: One sister, Cornelia Hampton.
B: Can you tell me something about your parents?
G: Yes. My grandmother, Mrs. Ella Thompson, which is my great-great
grandmother, was born in Gainesville. And my mother, Mrs. Clara
Hampton, was a native of Gainesville, Florida. She moved to New
York to work and to support myself and my sister. My great-great
grandmother raised us and sent us to school with the help of my
mother, who was working.
B: Now where did you live in Gainesville?
G: Right at the same address. It used to be 856 West Columbia Street,
which is now 728 NW 7th Avenue.
B: So this is where you were raised as a child.
G: As a child and born here in this home.
B: What is your sister's name?
G: My sister name is Cornelia Hampton. She was married and she was a
B: And is she in Gainesville now?
G: No, she is in New Jersey.
B: What school did you go to, Mrs. Griffin?
G: Lincoln High School. Which is the old A. Quinn Jones now. It is
now. It is now alternative school for the young children.
B: Do you remember very much about your schooling at Lincoln High?
G: Yes sir. I always tell my children they don't have the fun we had
when I was going to school.
G: I lived one block from school and we would walk one block everyday
and the funny thing would be every morning, we couldn't make up
our mind what we wanted to wear to school. We would change three or
four times. And we had finally find outfit we'd like to wear to
school. I had very good teachers. Mrs. Martha Lange, Mrs.
Frederica Jones, and Mrs. Daphne Duval, Mr. T. B. McPherson was my
history teacher in high school.
B: Mrs. Griffin, what was a day like in school? What time did school
G: About 8:30, and we would get out around 3:30 in the afternoon.
B: How many years did you go at Lincoln?
G: I went from the first grade up until the tenth grade. And then I
went to beauty school. From the tenth grade, I went to Atlanta to
Apex Beauty College. During that time, you could go and take a
trade without going to the twelfth grade. And I decided I wanted
to take this trade. And my parents sent me to do hair.
B: Now when you went to Atlanta to this beauty college, did you live
G: Yes. They had a dormitory for all girls who came into school there
and we lived upstairs and downstairs was the school. There was
five instructors at this school. Which was a very large college
there. Like I said, it was Apex Beauty College.
B: Is Apex Beauty College still existing?
G: It still exists, yes. Every time I go to the Bonner show every
August, I always go by and talk to my instructor, who is Mrs. Alice
Davis. She is still living.
B: The one that taught you in beauty school?
G: Right. She is still teaching.
B: What do you think caused you to have wanted to have gone into
G: Well, from the age of ten, I had long thick hair myself and I had a
problem with my sister doing my hair and one day I just decided I
was just gonna do it myself. And I did and I did a pretty good job
and from then on. I just started straightening the peoples's hair
in the neighborhood, curling their hair in the neighborhood, until
it really got to a thing that I was trying to perfect it. And I've
always said it was a gift because its something I like and I still
like to do it.
B: How long were you at Apex College? How long did it take you to get
G: Twelve hundred hours.
B: Did they had to be done all at one time?
G: Just weekends.
B: Was it expensive?
G: At that time, it was $125.00.
B: What was that for?
G: For the hours, that did not include room and board though. That
was just for the school.
B: How have you seen the processing of hair change over the years? Or
has it changed?
G: Yes it has. Back when I first started it was combs, hot combs, and
curling irons. Today its more chemicals like perms and cold waves
and more hair cutting now. Blow-drying which we did not do back
then. It has changed quite a bit.
B: What did a hair style or hairdo cost when you first started?
G: At that time, $1.50.
B: And what is the typical price for today?
G: Today a wash and set is $13.00 and up. Hot combs today is $15.00,
where we used to pay $1.50 for hot combs.
B: Do you find people getting their hair done now more than they did
when you started?
G: In a sense yes. Because the population is larger now than it was.
B: All the photographs of people you see of black people that lived
thirty or forty years ago, they show the hairs, I guess then you
called it kinky-rolls. You don't ever see the blacks with their
hair fixed and styled. Is that not true? Did they not have their
hair done or is that just some thing that?
G: It was the style. When the afro came out, it was the nice cut,
natural look. Today, its the cold wave with the natural look but a
more curly and straight look. Well, a wavy look, I would say.
B: Years ago did blacks not get their hair done because they couldn't
G: Well, they could afford it because, like I said, when I was
bootlegging, I would only charge fifty cents. I moved up to
seventy-five cents and then $1.00. And that is when I went to
B: Did you have beauticians for blacks?
G: We had beauticians for blacks, yes. And in that time, some of them
who were doing hair didn't have to go to school to practice the
G: Because if they had experience, they could do hair, and just go
downtown and buy a license. So therefore, we had one or two in the
area who were doing that. Myself, I was in high school and was
just doing this on the side, because I liked it and was really
interested in hair.
B: Where were the beautician shops located for blacks in Gainesville?
G: At that time, we had about two on Fifth Avenue and the rest of them
were in homes. They could work out of their homes.
B: Why do you think that was done?
G: I imagine because they let them do it as long as they had some
running water there. Not having to go in the kitchen. And that
was unsanitary there. But as long as they had a little space in
the house that they could say, "This is my beauty shop," they could
B: Now did you have to have a license?
G: You had to have a license for a shop. You have to buy a shop
license and you have to have your shop equipped to do hair now.
It's a state law because we are dealing with chemicals and all
types of hair and we have all kinds of scalps. We were not aware
of the things we are aware of now.
B: How long have you been operating your shop here?
G: I opened my shop in 1954.
B: Were you well received in Gainesville?
G: Yes, I was.
B: What did you contribute to your success as a beautician here in
G: Well, I put my children through school and I established a home and
I would say we've had a comfortable life. Myself and my four
B: And do you feel that, well, everybody knows little Clara in
Gainesville? If you're gonna have your hair done, you have to go
to little Clara. Why do you think that you have that kind of
reputation that you are a good beautician?
G: Well, I tried. Like I said I think it was a gift from God that it
came and I've always tried to do my best, whatever I did on a
person. And I think my work spoke for itself. When the customer
would leave and go out and that would bring me into another
customer. Well, you know. So I think that's how I've been well-
known and still known in Gainesville.
B: As a business person in Gainesville and a black female, do you feel
that you've had any difficulties because you were black?
G: No problems at all. I built my own shop here in 1954 and no
problems at all. I had people to call me to get advice. Even some
of the white salons.
B: Have you had white customers?
G: Yes, we have. But it's like once they know we're in the black
area, they don't really come back but we do have them calling and
we always explain this is an ebony salon so if you would like to
come in, we will work on you. Because we were trained to do their
B: If you had to do it over, would you move your shop to downtown
G: No. Because I've been very successful here on this corner. And I
don't think I would want to go downtown.
B: Now being you were raised here in this house and now its called the
Fifth Avenue area, how have you see this community change from the
time you were growing up to now? Do you think it was better than
it is now and how has it seemed to change?
G: Oh yes. Back then it was real good but now its good but its a lot
of changing. We've had some trouble in the area. Breaking in and
what have you. But I think things will be better.
B: Was it better before?
G: Oh yes. We could leave and go down to Fifth Avenue and leave the
doors unlocked but now we can't do that. You got to try to lock
B: As a business person in Gainesville, you went to Atlanta and came
back to work here. How have you kept informed of what's happening
with the hair and beauty culture type changes?
G: Communications. Once you go to a big show, if it's in Atlanta,
Philadelphia, whatever, you have to register there. They will send
you brochures of any shows that's going on in Los Angeles, Texas,
Las Vegas or whatever, and then you have an opportunity to save up
or get ready to go to these shows and keep up with the latest
B: Now you have been going to the shows?
G: Yes. I go to Atlanta for the Bonner Show and to the Ace Beauty
Show, which is held every year in August and the mid-winter show in
B: Now being the beautician field for more than thirty-eight years,
are you active in those shows, besides going? I mean have you
taught sessions or are you involved? Can you tell us something
about your role in those areas?
G: In my state convention, we have most of the jobbers there. I'm the
coordinator for the fashion show in my state organization. I have
been in the competition in Atlanta. I was awarded one of the
highest beauticians at one of the Bonner Shows in Atlanta.
G: And like I say, everywhere I go, I try to take a part in whatever's
going on. And I advise anybody who's in the field, whenever they
go, to put themselves into these things. And this is how you get
to be known too. We brought back various numbers of trophies,
which I have in my shop.
B: You have been in the field for several years and you say that God
gave you the gift, and you've been in the field for several years,
would you encourage young people to go into this area?
G: I surely would.
B: Do you think that because people now are learning to do things at
home and they have self-direction, do you think eventually we're
gonna get to the point where we won't need a Clara Griffin to do
hair? Will people do it at home or do you think there's gonna
always be a need for a beauty shop?
G: Oh yes, because a lot of people want professional work. Like I
said, you may deal in this section doing hair in your house holding
your head over the sink. But you soon get tired of that and you
want to go back to the salon where you can rest your head back and
get professional service. You might go over here and say they
don't give me a conditioner or they don't give me a rinse. They
don't cut my hair right so therefore it's always going to be that
you want to come back into shops where you can get professional
help where the person has been trained to do these things and know
what they are doing.
B: As a black female and a mother and at home in your house working
next door in your shop, what made you get up every morning and go
in that shop and work?
G: Well, like I said before, I really liked my work and that's one
thing that made me get up every morning and go. And then the next
thing, my children had to have an education. And to give them an
education would take money to put them on through. So it was
somewhat of a must and then a love for my work.
B: So you say, I can get from you that you can acutally be successful
working at your home if you want to.
G: Oh yes.
B: Because you're an example of it.
B: Did you have problems with the business persons downtown?
G: No, I didn't.
B: Did you have problems getting supplies? How did you get supplies
G: Okay, first we had a man who used to come around named Mr. Cuogen
who sold black products. And we used to buy from him until we were
educated on up and the supply man would come by and we'd buy it in
quantities. So therefore, he would always have supplies for the
blacks, supplies for the whites. So never had any problems getting
B: Were you ever regulated about your hours working?
G: When I first started, I was just so in love with my work, I didn't
have, but now I do. I have hours from like ten until six. And I
try to work at least about four hours a day now because of age and
B: You said, when you first started, you used to work all the time.
You mean a person could get their hair done any time?
G: Any time. Sunday, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, on
Christmas and Easter, believe it or not, I would work around the
clock, twenty-four hours. On Easter, we would be in the shop. I
would be in the shop because I was working by myself. Around the
clock on holidays.
B: What was the typical day? About how many customers did you all do
in one day?
B: Twelve, now is that a lot?
G: Yes, it is. Its a lot because most beauticians, I don't think,
would take that many.
B: In your length of hair you say you would charge $1.00 or $1.50...
G: That was for everybody, today we go by length. So its been a great
improvement from then until now.
B: By being in Gainesville for all these years, can you tell me some
of the beauticians or some of the persons that have worked under
you and where they are now?
G: Okay, my first operator was Mrs. Ada Bell Kirkland. She worked
B: Do you know if she's still in the business or not?
G: No, she's not in the business now. My second lady was Mrs.
Stafford, who wanted to do her apprentice. The third one who
worked under me was Mrs. Sylvia. I cannot think of her last name
right this minute but she stayed with me for seven years. And
after Sylvia, Mrs. Flo James did her intern under me.
B: Is that the one that has the shop on NW Fifth Avneue now?
G: Right, she is doing very well. Mrs. Katherine Gilchrist did her
intern under me.
B: How long did they intern?
G: Used to be two years and you'd go back. But if you do two years
now, you don't have to go back. But it used to be like a year.
But now you can work two years and have your apprentice, and go
back and get your license.
B: Is there a test?
G: Yes, an exam you have to pass.
B: Is that mostly practicum or written?
G: Practical and written.
B: Is there a second degree you get after the first degree?
G: It used to be two but now it's just one. You get your masters.
B: Oh there is a masters?
G: Master of Cosmetology now.
B: Now what is the need of having a masters? Does that put you in a
different level than the beginners?
G: Yes. So we would say like juniors and seniors.
B: And after Mrs. Gilchrist, did you have anyone else under you?
G: Yes. My daughter is working under me now.
B: Oh, she's carrying on the trade?
B: Do you think she would eventually take over the business for you?
G: Well, hopefully she will. I am trying to get her to do that now.
She first started, well, she's a barber. And she went into unisex.
So she'd do hair cutting, perms, and cold waves now.
B: Do you think it's a gift as yours was?
G: I think they all kind of came around and watched me enough to
really know what they are doing.
B: Well that's good. You are called little Clara. When did that name
stick with you or get with you?
G: Okay, my mother was Clara. So I got the little Clara orginial from
Big Clara. So that's how they began to call me little Clara.
B: Were there any other beauticians in your family?
G: I had an aunt. She's deceased now. My father's sister. She was a
beautician. I just can't recall the year and the days that she
was but before my time.
B: An opinion about the hairstyle. You've seen the, I guess you call
it the hot comb and so forth and now you have the chemicals. Which
do you think is the best for the black ladies or the black person's
G: I'd say the relaxers are very good. We first started out with
relaxers, which was a little too strong for our hair. The
manufacturers had a little too much lye in them, and it caused some
problems, but it was corrected. Today we have the no lye relaxer,
which is very good for the blacks. And I would recommend relaxers
and the hot comb.
B: Now when you say relaxers, what are you talking about?
G: That is a perm which straightens the hair without the straightening
comb. And that is relaxing the hair, shampooing it, conditioning
it, rolling it up, putting you under the dryer, taking you out and
combing your set out into a style.
B: Now it's said that the black woman has always tried to imitate the
white person. Do you feel that's what that came from?
G: Well, I don't really. I just think the black manufacturers and
chemists thought that they could go in and do something for the
black woman. And they did because our relaxers do not work
on white hair. Because their hair is already straight. Our cold
waves can work on their hair but our creams cannot. Unless it's a
Jew, it could work some curl out of their hair. It probably would
work on their.... But it was strictly made for the black woman.
And I don't think we wanted to have hair like the white person per
se. But like I say, the black chemists went in and said well we
can do this for the black woman, and they came out with a relaxer
B: What is the disadvantage of the hot-comb type? You know that's
what we hear about all the time. Can you explain that procedure to
G: The hot combs can be just as damaging as the relaxers. If you get
the comb too hot, you don't gauge it, you can burn that hair as
well as you can burn with the relaxer. And you can overprocess
with the relaxer and you can burn with the straightening comb. So
this is why we per se, go to the relaxer although you're
trained to do this hair with the hot combs. But it's the matter of
okay, I don't know, maybe I better come this way. The
straightening comb. If you get a hair-do and it's with a
straightening comb, if it's summer time, your hairdo only is going
to last about three days because of the hot weather. This is why
we try to educate our people and let them know that if you get this
relaxer, you are gonna be straight all the time. If you get wet,
you perspire, you can just rinse it out, shampoo and roll up. But
you cannot do that with a straightening comb. Although they are
putting it back on the board now. It's going to be a must that you
will have this on your exam.
B: The hot comb?
G: The hot comb. So they are trying to keep you up-to-date with this
hot comb which I would prefer any day and it makes it lighter on
the beautician, too.
B: When the wigs came out, did that hurt the beautician's business at
G: Some, but what I did and what the other beauticians that was saying
it was hurting their business did, I went in and bought two or
three or four or five wigs and started selling the wigs. I had a
girl to come in and do wigs. So that kept my business going where
a lot of the other girls were saying that their business had fallen
off. So it's all in keeping up with the latest trends and what
have you to keep your business alive.
B: What did you do during the afro period during the 1960s?
G: During the 1960s my clientele just didn't go for the Afro as much.
I think it's called the carefree curl now.
B: What is that procedure?
G: That is a cold wave, put on with a re-arranger and it is shampooed
out. It is watered down and its neutralized. And it sets for so
many minutes and then its taken down and its a curl in there.
B: How long does that last?
G: Six months to a year. You get them about twice a year. But you
come back and get conditioner shampoos with them. That will last
you six months.
B: What does that cost?
G: It is around $60.00.
B: Why is it so much?
G: It is a lot of work.
B: Can you share with us some of the old remedies you used to use?
G: Yes. When I first started out, we used pure Vaseline which made
the hair really nice, satin looking, and smooth looking after a
press. Used to put a little castor oil in it. We used to have
problems with dry scalp and this would help. We had something you
called Glover's Mane, which is medicated. They put it in the hair
all today for dry scalp, which was good. We used to use eggs, beat
them up to make a conditioner, put it on the hair and let it set
for a while. And rinse it out. That was some of the old remedies.
Now they do have in the modern products of today.
B: Did you do much braiding?
G: Not too much braiding. Only on little girls, maybe three plaits
not braids. The old folks used to do a lot of wrapping on their
kid's hair but I never did do that.
B: What do you mean when you say wrapping?
G: That would be braiding and they would take strings of stockings and
wrap the hair. Let it stay in for two or three months. Then take
it out and make sure their hair has grown and gotten thicker. And
it really works. I had a neighbor in the back of me who used to
wrap her daughter's hair all the time but mine was so long and
thick, I could not stand that.
B: Did girls in school during your time go with their hair braided and
G: Yes. The style they have now coming back is underbraiding. You
see some of the girls walking around now with underbraids. That
was very popular when we were younger. The pony tail with the bows
tied on them is coming back. So history is really repeating
B: And were parents conscious of their children's hair?
G: Oh yes. My parents were very busy working and we would get hair
combs at night and they would put stocking caps on so the hair
would be neatly in place the next day.
B: You see children going to school now with unkept hair. Was that
really very obvious years ago? Or did you see much of that?
G: You didn't see too much of that because today they are aoing into
the salons and getting hairdos which they are not keeping up like
they should. But back then, it was a must that you had to have
your hair braided. You would only get curls like Christmas and
B: When you say a must, did the school encourage that?
G: No, the school didn't. Back then, if the parents would let the
kids go to school with their hair uncombed, the teacher would take
them in the cloak room and comb that hair and put bows on them.
They made those out of toilet tissue.
B: My goodness.
G: Well, we had one instructor, Mrs. Martha Lang, she would make you a
bow if you come in her room and didn't have one on. Because she
like for her girls to look real neat. To pat their head. But you
had working parents then and some of them just didn't have the time
or they did not take the time to make that hair look like it was
supposed to look.
B: So a black person can have an attractive head of hair?
G: At all times.
B: As a business woman, what was your circle of friends?
G: I was in a social club, the Starlight Social Club, which met once a
month and we would entertain and we had trips. We had one trip we
went to Nassau. Then I became a member of the Dignatates. That is
a social club where we give scholarships to a needy child.
B: Where did you all go for social events before it was integrated?
G: We went to the Wabash Hall. They used to have dances on Fifth
B: Now where would that be located or where is it located?
G: That is Northwest Fifth Avenue, now its Eckert's Barbershop and
B: Was that a dance hall?
G: Yes. We had a place called the Cotton Club. Which was over on
S.W. Seventh Avenue. We had Sarah's Sandwich Shop. She had a
nightclub in the back and entertainment. Those were about the only
night spots that I know of. But I would go sometimes, but not too
B: And because you were not allowed to go across town?
B: As a beautician, where are some of the places that you have
G: I've been to New York. I went to Philadelphia to the big show
there. I have been to Jamaica. And I have been to Nassau three
consecutive times. As well as St. Pete, Miami, Orlando, and
B: Were you travelling at these conventions when it was still
G: Oh yes. I have been in some of the shows that it was Ace Beauty
Supply who always have a show, which is all-white. And the supply
man who was coming around to all the black shops, we would always
get invitations to go.
B: And would you all be accepted there freely?
G: Very much.
B: So you're saying that the beauty section was there that you were
all buying from the white distributor, but you all were allowed to
go to the shows?
G: Yes. It's one thing about the business. It's not prejudiced.
When it comes down to education, classes, it's black and white.
And it's the same in our shows. It's black and white there. When
the beauticians get together, they were very friendly. The ones
I've ran across. And we get to know each other and tell where we
are from and what we are doing and how's business and what have
you. So it's been very pleasant as far as I'm concerned.
B: Did you sell very many cosmetics?
G: No. I didn't get into the cosmetics. My thing was hair pieces,
wigs, earrings, and little nets for the hair.
B: Did black women wear more hair pieces twenty years ago compared to
G: Well, I guess you'd say it was the thing, the style. And in the
1940s and the 1950s and the 1960s, it was just the thing that the
hair was out and the people were just fond of wearing cluster curls
and chignons on the back. And it came on down to the wigs. So it
was just one of those things and after the relaxers and the cold
waves came out, everybody who was in wigs practically got out of
wigs but then you still had some wearing wigs and hair pieces.
B: I have a little crazy question. The white society ladies have a
tendency to change their hair all the time. You know, one day it's
long and one day it's short and then the next time you see them,
it's blond, it's brunette and they go from other colors. Is that
typical among the black image?
G: We can do it.
B: Do you have many that want their hair dyed?
G: Well, no. The only reason you don't see the black, they
will go into it but not as frequently or as fast as the whites.
But it can be done on our hair too.
B: Do we have many ladies who are wearing the blond or red hair?
G: Yes, and the cellophane colors, very much so.
B: When you say cellophane, what do you mean?
G: That's temporary color. We have plum, wine plum, plum brown. We
have cognac. We have black and it goes onto the hair and you get
in the sunlight, you really see the effect of it. And it's called
a cellophane color, which is a temporary color.
B: I have seen many senior citizens with their hair blue and I never
understood that. It was very obvious years ago. What was that
G: They wanted to say they had a blue rinse on their gray hair. Some
went to the extreme with them. This comes back to somebody who has
not been trained to tone the hair. A professional would not send
her customer out with blue looking hair.
B: Do you mean that the blue was not supposed to look blue?
G: Not that blue. You might have seen some really looking blue.
B: Yes, I have.
G: Just to highlight, but not blue blue.
B: I was wondering because I have seen some ladies with blue hair and-
wondered why is the hair blue. It was not done correctly?
G: That's right.
B: I just learned something. Being here for all the years you have
and being in the business if you had to say something to a group of
students about being a business person and a mother what would you
share with them about your business that you have found delightful?
G: Well, I would say if I had to do it all over again, I would do it.
I made good of it and I would encourage any person who would be
interested in it to go into it and make a success of it. And
always think of being a good beautician and don't go into it just
to be doing hair or because you see your friend doing hair and
doing well over there. But go in it to make a success and be a
good beautician because that is where you get your money. You will
always have customers coming back to you. I would say, I love it,
if I had it to do again, I'd do it again.
B: Would you accept a show tomorrow with sixteen stations and
downtown, would you do that?
G: I would accept, yes, being the manager and over-seeing.
B: As a black lady in the Fifth Avenue area, you only hear negative
things about this area. What do you have to say about being born
here, raised here, having your business here and still here?
Evidently there's something good about it. What do you have to say
that has made you stay here to enjoy being here?
G: It is good and I wouldn't trade it because I think it's the
individual. You make what you want out of life. If I wanted to go
out and room with the people who are not doing well, I'd look to do
unwell. But I don't look that way. I always look up and look for
better things. And far as in the Fifth Avenue and the Seventh
Avenue area, I have no regrets of being in this area and like I
said, I think I've tried to run a peaceful and clean business with
B: Good. Have you had very much involvement in being a part of the
activities in Gainesville?
G: Yes. I am the chairperson of the Seventh Avenue Crime Watch Area
and I think we have done and achieved some goals in my area here.
I have seen a lot of improvement in the area which housing and
cleaning off land and what have you around us. So I think in years
to come it's gonna even be better.
B: Were you involved in activities here with the city or with the
black community years ago?
G: Yes. I was, I went to several of the meetings and protests and sat
in and listened and all my children went to jail for integration
but yes, I have.
B: So you definitely have had your impact on Gainesville?
B: Good. So, anything else you want to share with me about Clara
Griffin before I end this interview?
G: Well, I don't think so and I hope the Lord will let me live to see
thirty-nine more years of this experience.
B: I hope so and I want to thank you for allowing me to do this
G: Thank you.