Monday, August 21, 2023

"The Barber of Natchez Reconsidered"

New from LSU Press: The Barber of Natchez Reconsidered: William Johnson and Black Masculinity in the Antebellum South by Timothy R. Buckner.

About the book, from the publisher:

Historians have long considered the diary of William Johnson, a wealthy free Black barber in Natchez, Mississippi, to be among the most significant sources on free African Americans living in the antebellum South. Timothy R. Buckner’s The Barber of Natchez Reconsidered reexamines Johnson’s life using recent scholarship on Black masculinity as an essential lens, demonstrating a complexity to Johnson previously overlooked in academic studies.

While Johnson’s profession as a barber helped him gain acceptance and respectability, it also required his subservience to the needs of his all-white clientele. Buckner’s research counters earlier assumptions that suggested Johnson held himself apart from Natchez’s Black population, revealing instead a man balanced between deep connections to the broader African American community and the necessity to cater to white patrons for economic and social survival.

Buckner also highlights Johnson’s participation in the southern performance of manliness to a degree rarely seen in recent studies of Black masculinity. Like many other free Black men, Johnson asserted his manhood in ways beyond simply rebelling against slavery; he also competed with other men, white and Black, free and enslaved, in various masculine pursuits, including gambling, hunting, and fishing. Buckner’s long-overdue reevaluation of the contents of Johnson’s diary serves as a corrective to earlier works and a fascinating new account of a free African American business owner residing in the prewar South.
--Marshal Zeringue