Sam Daniels has been cutting hair since the ’40s, and opened the first black-owned barber shop in Tacoma in 1958.
Could have used Sam back then. My father, a policeman, thought cutting the hair of his three sons would save money, and he was right. Cutting it well? Another issue.
Dad’s first hair cut was a practice run on our cocker spaniel, Shawnie. Immediately after being shorn, the dog retired to his backyard dog house and for weeks came out only to eat. With us, dad’s goal was a flat top haircut that became a buzz cut when he couldn’t level out the hair.
Now Mr. Daniels has seen styles change over the decades, and there’s no evidence anyone he ever laid a razor to had to hide in the dog house like my younger brother. Fact is, Sam and Terry’s Barber Shop has become a hilltop fixture – and so has Sam.
The subject of today’s column, Sam Daniels suffered through a community tribute a few weeks ago, and those who honored him did so with pleasure. Two of those who spoke:
- Former city mayor Harold Moss: “So much happened at that shop. They made a barbershop a home and you’d go there and everyone would tell stories,” Moss said. “Sam was not one of the guys you’d think of as actively involved or as loud as me, but he let the shop be a place to talk politics, race, whatever. He was a facilitator.”
Tom Dixon, former president of the Tacoma Urban League: ”We wanted to give Sam something at the tribute, and I was asked to help raise $1,000 in two weeks. Everyone I talked to contributed – that just doesn’t happen in fund-raising – and one gentleman wrote on his check, ‘Thanks for asking.’”
Today, a month shy of his 89th birthday, Daniels still cuts hair at his shop on 1110 11th Street, and has four other barbers working – men he’s hired and trained. Since ’58, dozens of young men have come under his wing, learned a craft and many have opened their own businesses.
When Sam and partner/friend Larry Terry opened the shop, they wanted it to have a family atmosphere – no cursing allowed – and over the years it became a place people came to talk. There was always a checkerboard, always a conversation.
Daniels is fighting bone cancer today. As quick with a smile as ever, he still stops by hospitals to cut the hair of clients, free of charge. And his regular customers keep coming. Meet Sam, it’s easy to see why. He’s a good barber, and a much better man.