On Thursday, June 2nd 2016, the year of Le'Vonte King Jason Jones, Philando Castille, Alton Sterling & on & on; Corrine Wright echoed. Corrine Wright, cultural worker & Master Barber at Wright Haircuts, a barbershop operating out of 1900 Penn Avenue N. from 1991 - 2011. I sat down with Corrine to get a better since of the significance of this little shop where I got my own haircut, where you could see across the street black folks selling other black folks fresh fruits and vegetables. This account is an attempt to reconstruct memory of a site which is now an empty lot, but which had a name.
CHAUN: So when did you start, when did Wright Haircuts begin?
CORRINE: In 1991.
CHAUN: ’91 ok, so maybe let me just start with, what made you want to start Wright Haircuts, and what made you want to start right where you did at 1900 Penn Avenue?
CORRINE: Cuz it was a, it was mostly blacks in the area and I thought that I would be a resource to them, they didn’t have to go a long ways cuz at that time there wasn't that many barber shops. I wanted to be right in the center of it, and I wanted to be able to, I just wanted to be able to service them and get to know them and stuff and I did, I did, it was a great experience, great experience. It was a lot of back and forth. Every year, almost every year, the neighborhood would change, but I stayed there, because the people were interesting.
CHAUN: How would it change? What do you mean?
CORRINE: I mean I saw a lot of people move out, and a lot of people move in, and a lot of people stayed, it was a very good experience for me, I got to know a lot of people, I did a lot of people’s hair, they come from all over Minneapolis, and in the suburbs and everything, so it was very interesting, and I loved my job, and I loved people and loved servicing them and so it was a good experience for me a good time in my life.
CHAUN: How long did it operate for?
CORRINE: It was there for 20 years on that corner.
CHAUN: 20 years?
CORRINE: Uh huh.
CHAUN: So then…
CORRINE: From ’91 to 2011.
CHAUN: 2011 wow. And I remember even when ya’ll were no longer at the corner, for at least a few years more the property was still there and the sign was still up.
CHAUN: Prior to it being torn down. Do you remember when it was torn down?
CORRINE: Let me see, I moved out in 2011 It was torn down in 2012 I think. 2012 or ’13 when it was torn down.
CHAUN: Did you know the owner of that property?
CORRINE: I own that property.
CHAUN: You own that property?
CORRINE: I own that property.
CHAUN: Ok, and when did you, did you purchase it initially when you went in and you moved in or did…
CORRINE: No I initially didn’t purchase it. Later on, after I was there a few years I purchased it.
CHAUN: So then do you know, what was the need for it to be torn down?
CORRINE: The storm, in 2011 that swept through Minneapolis, it knocked all the back off and all the top off and everything it destroyed it and I had to move.
CHAUN: Did you live out of that property?
CORRINE: No I didn't live there.
CHAUN: Oh ok, you just operated out of there.
CORRINE: I just operated out of there.
CHAUN: So, I don’t know maybe. What do you remember about operating, that’s 20 years that’s a long time
CORRINE: A long time.
CHAUN: To be operating a business on the corner, what is it that stands out as memorable to you in that space?
CORRINE: Well I did, I did so many people’s hair, that come from all over, lawyers and pilots and teachers and principals and everybody from all walks of life and I like that. I like that, I enjoyed that.
CHAUN: You said there weren’t that many barber shops around when you first opened up.
CORRINE: When I first started there were three. Yeah it was Broadway Barbers, The Young Brothers, and myself when I opened up.
CHAUN: When did Dimensions and Hair open up? Were they around at a similar time? Do you know Dimensions and Hair?
CORRINE: Dimensions? Yeah Dimensions right there off of Broadway, I know, I know Mike. Yeah Mike open up, ah, maybe three or four years, maybe five years after me. That Mike open up Dimensions, and I know Dimensions and Mike.
CHAUN: But you said Young Brothers and what were the other ones?
CORRINE: Broadway Barbers, Young Brothers, and myself.
CHAUN: Now Young Brothers, was that…
CORRINE: Young Brothers was on Plymouth.
CHAUN: Ok, they’re no longer there?
CORRINE: They’re no longer there, they’re all gone.
CORRINE: But, ah, they had a barbershop up down there on Plymouth, and it was brothers there was three of them. Ok, and they were there a long time, and they left, also it was a guy cross Plymouth, I can’t think of his name. He was cross Plymouth, he would work and, he had a little barbershop up out of the house in front of the house. He was there for awhile but not too long because he got ill and he closed down. Uh huh, I can’t think of his name.
CHAUN: How many barbers did you have in your barbershop?
CORRINE: Four. Uh huh, four barbers.
CHAUN: But then you were one of the few master barber, operating here in North Minneapolis that were women master barbers, right? Like as a master barber you were one of the few women that owned a shop.
CORRINE: Yeah, Lynn owned one, Broadway Barbers, she and Mac. You heard of him, Mac?
CHAUN: No. I don’t think I have.
CORRINE: They owned Broadway Barbers, ok. Now it’s Clipper Cuts. It’s still on Broadway, Clipper Cuts, but Mac not there anymore he moved to Alabama. His home, back home. But Lynn is still running it, Clipper Cuts. So at one time, before I opened up Wright Haircuts, I was working in Broadway Barbers, ok. Broadway Barbers used to be, down the street, this way, it’s a nail shop now, they moved out of there into the new building, The Clipper Cuts ok. And so at that time it was six barbers, and so, it was six barbers there including myself, and ah, that was it. Wasn’t no more barbershops around at that time.
CHAUN: You said you came here to Minnesota, I think you were saying in ’62?
CHAUN: ’72, ok. And where did you come here from?
CORRINE: Chicago, but I wasn’t born there, I was born in Arkansas.
CHAUN: Ah, ok.
CORRINE: But I moved here with my husband and five kids, and I lived on the southside, ok.
CHAUN: Where about in Arkansas?
CORRINE: Conway. 40 miles north of Little Rock.
CHAUN: And then you went to Chicago?
CORRINE: I moved to Chicago, and then from Chicago here.
CHAUN: And you came in ’72?
CHAUN: Lot of changes between ’72 and now.
CORRINE: A whole lot of changes, whole lot of changes. When I first moved in this was the sweetest, this was the sweetest city. Clean, quite, it was nice really nice. Wasn’t that many blacks here, and most of the blacks that was here knew each other, because there weren’t that many you know. It was nice
CHAUN: And in ’72, that’s prior to when 94 was built over here also, that was before 94, 94 I think was around ’78.
CORRINE: Yeah that was before 94.
CHAUN: So it looked a lot different.
CORRINE: A lot different, everything has changed. And it’s still changing.
CHAUN: So then, I suppose some of my other questions about it, do you still own - do you own that lot?
CORRINE: I own the lot.
CHAUN: Have you ever thought about - what have you though about -
CORRINE: I been thinking about what I should do with it. Should I just sell it or whatever. I’m thinking about what to do with it.
CHAUN: Do you live over in North Minneapolis?
CORRINE: I do.
CHAUN: When you moved over from Chicago did you move to the northside?
CORRINE: No I moved to the southside I lived south. I lived south until, I lived south, I moved over here I think around ’93. I moved over here around ’93 to the northside. I been over here ever since.
CHAUN: So shortly after you opened up Wright Haircuts.
CORRINE: Yeah, I moved over here, uh huh. Cuz my husband used to have a, my husband used to have a little grocery store down the street on Golden Valley Rd and Sheridan.
CHAUN: Ok what was that? What was it called?
CORRINE: Johnson’s Market. You don’t remember that do you?
CHAUN: No I don’t think I do.
CORRINE: It used to be right on the corner of Sheridan and Golden Valley Rd.
CORRINE: So he was coming over here everyday, and I was working, at that time I was working at Broadway Barbers up there on Broadway, so I decided to move over here and we both would be closer to our jobs you know.
CHAUN: Was the process, a few years after when you were working out of that property, what was the process for you purchasing it like? Was it a difficult process, were there any obstacles that were a part of the process, in purchasing the property?
CORRINE: No, when I initially went into the property I was renting with an option to buy, so I was doing a - what you call that?
CHAUN: Contract for deed?
CORRINE: Yes, yes, so the guy come to me and say, ‘you know, you know Corrine you can buy the property’, and so what I do? ‘you don’t have to put any money down’ you just do the paper work and stuff like that and stuff. Ok and so, and so I met with him and the bank and stuff, so the bank financed you know what I had to pay on it and stuff. And I payed it off. Yeah so, it was a pretty smooth process.
CORRINE: Yeah wasn’t no hassle.
CHAUN: When you purchased the property, the owner of the property at the time, what was there background?
CORRINE: He owned a lot of properties around here in Minneapolis, he owned the ah, you know the bar over south, Champion? It used to be right over on the corner of First Avenue and Lake Street.
CHAUN: Yeah yeah yeah.
CORRINE: He owned that bar, ok, and he also owned that building that I was in.
CHAUN: And then, I suppose another thing I was interested in was, across the street cause I always -
CORRINE: Across the street?
CHAUN: Where the farmers market was.
CORRINE: Oh ok.
CHAUN: I just, I remember that as, I don’t know that was a really important memory for me, going and getting a haircut and then I would see across the street, like you know somebody would stop their car and while they were waiting at the light the would grab some vegetables and everything.
CORRINE: Mr. Reuben.
CHAUN: So it was Mr. Reuben that -
CORRINE: It was Reverend Reuben really he ah, no he's not there anymore, but he's around here, he still around here uh huh, he live north. He live up on Thomas and Golden Valley Rd.
CHAUN: Do you remember their first name?
CHAUN: Reverend Reuben.
CORRINE: Sam, Sam Reuben.
CHAUN: And they would, and it looked like a kind of, it was like kind of make-shift you know like it seemed like people kind of just came together and they set up their tables and had their vegetables and folks would come by and they would buy them. It didn’t seem like something where like people needed to go and get a permit from the city or the county in order to do it. Or do you know if they did?
CORRINE: I think he had to have a permit. I think he had to have a permit to do it, but he did it and it was nice. Cause people was just coming to get their vegetables you know.
CHAUN: How many years, do you know how many years he did that for?
CORRINE: Oo, I don’t know.
CHAUN: I’ll have to ask
CORRINE: Quite a few years, yeah he did that and it was nice, you know everybody looked forward to him coming and you know he would come on Friday, what was that, Saturday, Saturday morning.
CHAUN: Do you know where he would get the vegetables from? Did people just farm them and then harvest and bring them to the market?
CORRINE: He would go into the farm, to the farm. There are some farms here in Minnesota where you can go and you can get as many vegetables as you want as long as you pick them yourself. Ok, so that’s what he was doing. He was going to the farm, picking them and stuff then bringing them back and selling them back to the neighborhood. Which was nice. You know, it wasn’t that much you know. They were cheap so
CHAUN: Yeah it was real nice
CORRINE: And the fruits, the vegetables and the fruits were fresh so.
CHAUN: Yeah, I remember getting some, I remember you know cause me and my step dad
CORRINE: He’d have apples and oranges and bananas and stuff out there, along with you know, vegetables and that was good. I, yeah, I hated when he left that corner, because it helped me to because a lot of times I would go over there and get different things you know.
CHAUN: Who really stands out, when you were cutting hair? Who were some of the regulars that would really stand out that you built relationships with as you were over there at the barbershop?
CORRINE: I do, I built a lot of relationships with a lot of pastors, with the Urban League guy at that time it was um, Mr. Glover. With the Urban League president. A lot of teachers at North High School and Cooper. Ooo, so many I can’t even, they're so many, so many I can’t even think of all of them they're so many. But they all would come there and get their haircut you know, so, yeah.
CHAUN: Did you want to retire when you had closed down in 2011? Is that a part of the reason or..
CORRINE: I didn’t, I didn’t retire, I moved to over on Glenwood. My daughter was a, my daughter and I worked together too. Tanya, and we, she had a shop over there, she moved to Baltimore and I took over her shop and I worked there until 2013. In 2013 I fell and I had to have a operation on my knee and have some pens put in, that’s why I’m on my cane. So 2013 was my last year of working.
CHAUN: Yeah, for sure. So then, you said that you daughter Tanya works as a, she was working as a
CORRINE: She works was working as a barber then, she doesn’t work, she’s not a, she don’t do barbering anymore she does, she works at Delta. Delta Airlines.
CHAUN: Yeah, yeah. My stepdad works for Delta.
CORRINE: Ah ok, who is your dad?
CHAUN: Jesse Gray.
CORRINE: Where’s he from?
CHAUN: Yeah, he would be the one, he would be the one to take me over - ah, grew up in Wesson Mississippi and then came up here probably around the same time as you came up here.
CORRINE: Did he bring you to the barbershop when you was coming.
CHAUN: Uh huh. Yeah he would bring me.
CORRINE: Did he get his hair cut?
CHAUN: Yup, yup.
CORRINE: Who was cutting it?
CHAUN: Um, I know you would cut my hair, I’m not sure, I can’t remember exactly who it is though.
CORRINE: Ok, it might have been Al or Angie, ok. Anyway I, ah ok, but his home is Mississippi?
CHAUN: Yup, Wesson, Mississippi, but came up here got a degree in education so he was a teacher up here for quite awhile.
CORRINE: Ok, is he still teaching?
CHAUN: No he retired from teaching, and now is kind of working a lighter shift up on the airlines.
CORRINE: Ah, ok, the Delta ok. Yeah that’s where Tanya, well Tanya. Barbering is a burnout job, what I mean by that is after so many years you get burnt out, you know, dealing with people and its a burnout so, she was tired.
CHAUN: Did you ever feel like you got tired of barbering?
CORRINE: Who me?
CORRINE: No I didn’t really get tired but she said she was tired and she wanted to do something different. But I didn’t get tired I’d probably would have still been barbering if I had not had my bad, you know, fell and, you know and hurt my leg. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed talking with the people and servicing the people and meeting so many new people I enjoyed that. So I was in the right mode, when I was barbering yeah.
CHAUN: Now when you went from Arkansas to Chicago, kind of switching gears, when did you leave Arkansas to move to Chicago?
CORRINE: Oh my god I was about, when I left Arkansas, I guess I was about 16.
CHAUN: So you were like 16 moving there and then when you were in Arkansas did you have family that you left there in Arkansas?
CORRINE: Ah yeah I left my mom and dad and I had a twin brother, my sister and brother, I’m the youngest of fourteen. My twin brother died about five years ago, and out of that fourteen there’s only three of us living now. One sister and one brother and myself that’s it. Everybody else is gone. But I’m the youngest of that, you know, of that other fourteen it was a big family of us.
CHAUN: Yeah, and you have five kids?
CORRINE: I have five kids. Three boys and two girls.
CHAUN: And they, do they have any children of their own?
CORRINE: Yeah, ah, Cynthia has two, Gibbon has seven, ah, Clay has three and Tanya has one and my other son doesn't have any.
CHAUN: Uh huh, now when your family came from Chicago to Minneapolis did you just have you and your kids or did you have other family that came here?
CORRINE: No, just me and my kids and my husband when I moved here uh huh. But I had a brother here who had been here since the ‘40s, and he encouraged me to come here but he’s dead now. He encouraged me to come here and ah -
CHAUN: And he came here in the, he was here in the ‘40s?
CORRINE: He was here in the ‘40s yeah. Mhmm, one of my brothers mhmm.
CHAUN: Did you say, where were you with your brothers, with your siblings, were you the youngest?
CORRINE: The youngest, my twin brother and I was the youngest, out of 14 uh huh.
CHAUN: Wow so you had a brother that was here in the 1940’s, that was a different time also.
CORRINE: Yeah it was, it was. But it was a, he was in -
CHAUN: How did he like it? What was his experience like here?
CORRINE: Oh he liked it, he was a professor, ok. He left Arkansas and finished high school in Kansas City and from Kansas City moved here. He got a degree and was teaching in Michigan, and then he came back here. He was teaching in Canada, and he came back here he could speak nine languages. He was a professor, he didn’t -
CHAUN: What did he teach?
CORRINE: You know what English and Black History. I know those two he taught.
CHAUN: You remember his name?
CORRINE: Yeah, my brother, Walter.
CHAUN: What was his last name?
CORRINE: Walter Brown.
CHAUN: Walter Brown. Now did you marry into, Wright is a name that you, was your maiden name Brown?
CORRINE: No, my maiden name was Wright.
CHAUN: No that’s incredible, you know, it’s important family history. So Walter Brown -
CORRINE: Yeah, he was a very smart man.
CHAUN: Do you know where he taught at here?
CORRINE: He taught at Washburn High School, and over at the U and he taught at the Junior High School in Albert Lea Minnesota, Albert Lea Minnesota. I used to drive him there, mhmm, when I first moved here. I would drive him down there and he’d do his classes and then come bach uh huh. Yeah so, mhmm.
CHAUN: Now what about some of the changes that you saw over the twenty years that you were at 1900 Penn Avenue. What are some of the changes that you remember over the course of the time that you came in? I know you mentioned how some people, folks kind of move in and move out some people stay. Did you see, what other kinds of changes and shifts did you see happen?
CORRINE: You know what, as time progressed there was a lot more fighting and dope dealing, you know what I’m saying?
CHAUN: Uh huh.
CORRINE: At that time, yeah, but you know what no one ever bothered me. Never. No one ever bothered me. Well, outside, and you know I never allowed anyone to stand around, I knew what was going on, so you know. But the people in the neighborhood really respected me, you know and so, that was a good thing. They knew me I treated them like humans. Treated them nice and they treated me nice. I’m trying to think of something, cuz when I came there, when I left Broadway Barbers, they was doing that stuff then, yeah so. That was the worst thing, dealing with that, but they never bothered me though, you know. They always protected me, the guys, they always protected me, and if something was going on in the store they’d say, “no! you got to get away from here! you got to get away from Ms. Wright!” You know they always respected me, so I liked that, I didn’t have to worry about anything they came and looked out for me. When I worked late at night there was always some of the guys who would wait until I get in my car or truck or whatever. So they looked out after me, I liked that part, I could always depend on them. The neighborhood did change over the years because, people was getting, people was getting more and more into all that other stuff that they shouldn’t have you know what I’m saying, and so it did change. That will change people, it will change the neighborhood, you know what I’m saying? That will change a neighborhood.
But that was a nice corner though.
CHAUN: Yeah it was.
CORRINE: For a barbershop.
CHAUN: Yeah it was. Do you mind me asking you what you purchased it for back in the ‘90s when you bought it?
CORRINE: Ooo, I done forgot. I’ve forgotten Chaun, um.
CHAUN: I’m interested in what the changes in the prices have been -
CORRINE: Yeah it wasn’t that much Chaun, it wasn’t that much. It was something like twenty two thousand dollars or something like that, it was cheap.
CHAUN: Oh wow.
CORRINE: Yeah, it wasn’t that expensive, of course the building needed a lot of work done on it, but it was about twenty two thousand or something like that. It wasn't that much. Anyway I paid that off. No that’s not, that’s not much at all. I mean that’s a changing, you know.
CHAUN: No that’s not that much at all, you know its a changing -
CORRINE: When I moved here, the houses that cost two and three hundred thousand dollars right now right, you could get it for twenty some thousand dollars when I moved here.
CHAUN: Much different.
CORRINE: Much different. So a lot of the old houses over north and south that people been in a long time. They’re really really nice sound houses and they didn’t pay that much for it and that’s why they not going to move ok. They not going to move, cuz it was a steal. You could get a house, at that time, when I moved here they had a lot of contract for deeds, ok, so anyone who wanted a house could get a house. You understand what I’m saying?
CORRINE: Uh huh. So, a lot of people got them some beautiful beautiful homes, big beautiful homes really cheap, really cheap at that time.
CHAUN: Yeah, no, they not doing that now.
CORRINE: Oh no, them houses cost, oh they cost some money now. But at that time, no.
CHAUN: And they not doing contract for deed now not really like that.
CORRINE: Every once and awhile. But it depends, you can do a contract - if you own property, you can still do it but people would prefer not to do it, they’d rather you just get a loan from the bank or whatever you know, you know that. It’s hard but ah, there are a few, there are a few people around who have property who is doing contract for deed. But it’s not seen much its almost erased out of - you know. But that was a good way for people to get a home. Contract for deed, you know, with the intentions to buy. And you could get it financed through the bank or through some kind of financial institution or whatever, if you had pretty good credit or whatever, you know what I’m saying.
CHAUN: Do you have any old photos from the barbershop? I looked it up through the Star Tribune news clippings and was trying to see if there was any old photos of your shop.
CORRINE: Star Tribune, ah, you know who may have some, Al McFarlane.
CHAUN: Al McFarlane, yeah is that with Insight News?
CORRINE: Insight News. He have some pictures of us, talk to him about it.
CHAUN: I will.
CORRINE: Al McFarlane. I had a, you know a in ’94, I think it was ’94 or ’95, the police was chasing some people and going this way on Penn, and a, the car turn around into my door and knock the front out, and a, through the baby up in the barbershop, anyway Al got all the pictures on that.
CHAUN: Oh wow.
CORRINE: So you can see if you can get some pictures from Al. And Al also was our customer long as we were there.
CHAUN: Oh wow.
CORRINE: Al was there.
CORRINE: Al McFarland, you . You can get some pictures from him.
CHAUN: Yeah, I’m gonna see his daughter Batala, um, tomorrow.
CORRINE: Batala came by too, Tanya, my daughter use to do her hair all the time too. Yeah so you can get some from them.
CHAUN: For sure I will definitely ask about that.
CORRINE: Yeah that’s my friend, nice people.
CHAUN: Yeah, well I appreciate you taking the time.