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Mr. George's Barbershop highlight of Black history speaker series

Appeal-Democrat - 4/24/2024

Apr. 23—As part of its Stories from Our Community speaker series, the Sutter County Museum hosted a presentation from Randy Deas on April 18 to discuss Black history in Yuba-Sutter.

The Sutter County Museum in partnership with the Lifting Others Forward Together Institute (LOFT) are working together to develop a new Black history exhibit by gathering artifacts and stories of notable figures in the long-standing history of African Americans in the region.

Deas, a funeral director for Ullrey Memorial Chapel in Yuba City and retired Air Force veteran, shared stories and information about Mr. George's Barbershop, a hub for connection and outreach for Yuba-Sutter's Black community.

George Jones, who passed away in August 2022 at age 87, ran Mr. George's Barbershop for nearly 40 years before its closure in 2013. His business was one of the last hair salons along Barber's Row in Marysville, now known as D Street.

According to LOFT CEO Gwen Ford, Barber's Row was established in the 1800s by Edward P. Duplex, an African-American businessman who started the first of several barber shops and businesses in Marysville.

Mr. George's Barbershop has been described as an epicenter for the local Black community, having served as a public forum, a resource center, and a traditional source of news and information for African Americans.

Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, and coming from a family of preachers and teachers, Deas knew that he wanted to be a mortician by his sophomore year of high school. He moved to Beale Air Force Base in 1967 after being drafted into the Army as a college student and transitioning into the Air Force.

"When we came to Beale Air Force Base, my wife and I weren't able to get away from a lot of stuff: back of the bus, black and white fountains, sitting at the end of the counter. When we came to California, it was still here. Not at the same level, but it was here, even among the people who served in the United States Air Force," Deas said. "We had to adjust to the new environment in California. It wasn't perfect, but it was better than what we left."

Deas spoke on how he did not want to join the military; his primary goal in life was to be a mortician. He continued to work night shifts on base in order to attend mortuary school before eventually joining Ullrey Memorial Chapel, where he has worked for over 50 years.

According to Deas, Jones was a "legend" at Beale Air Force Base and a pillar in the community after opening his barber shop, which was more akin to a welcome center than just a place to cut hair. Those who walked through the doors of Mr. George's Barbershop were quickly connected with others in the area for community, business or legal purposes.

"Mr. George planted a tree, and a lot of branches came from that tree," Deas said. "Say you want to talk politics, come to George's barber shop. If you needed to buy a house, come to George's barber shop. Black folks looking out for black folks."

Deas reflected on charity work performed through the barber shop, including organizing food donations during the holidays. In Jones' eyes, service work was seen as an obligation to their community, Deas said. Jones even had a drawer for visitors to leave change for a community fund to help struggling families.

"You did not leave there with anything in your pocket. That money was used to pay light bills. It was used to pay for groceries. It was used to pay rent. It was for all kinds of things, but the major thing about that drawer was that on Christmas and Thanksgiving, we bought food baskets," Deas said. "When we ran out of food and had other people come, George would call us all together, we'd make another collection and go back to the store. ... That barber shop served a lot of purpose, and when that door closed, it broke a lot of hearts."

Deas concluded his presentation with a call to action: the achievements of Black people must be highlighted to inspire the next generation.

"We have Black people in this community who have made marks in the community. We have Black people in this community who have excelled that we — all of us — need to go out and research and put them in the Appeal-Democrat," he said. "We should not let people in this community like my grandchild leave because they don't feel that they can do anything here. That's not true. I'm an example of that. It took a lot of work, a lot of suffering, but I'm here. I'm pretty sure they could make it too if given the opportunity."

LOFT and the Sutter County Museum will continue to gather materials for its upcoming Black history exhibit, which is scheduled to open this summer.


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