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Ralph Johnson Papers, c1921-1971

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MS-2021-044

Content Description

This collection contains biographical information, photographs, and articles relating to Ralph Johnson. Many of the photographs are identified and are of his family, friends, or his barber shop.


  • 1927 - 1971

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open to the public without restriction. The copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to duplicate or publish material from this collection must be obtained from the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Biographical / Historical

Ralph Johnson (1904-2001) was of self-proclaimed Scotch-African ancestry. His father died in 1912, so he was raised by his mother, Bessie Johnson. He received his education in Davidson, North Carolina through the 7th grade, then attended school in Statesville, North Carolina, while apprenticing as a barber.

After Johnson received his training, he moved back to Davidson and worked as a barber next to his uncle’s shop. He later opened Johnson’s Barber Shop on March 24, 1921. He moved the location of his business a few times but finally settled on Main Street. As a Black man, Johnson was racially targeted. His shop suffered from broken windows and demonstrations held in front of it. Ultimately, his business prevailed. Fifty years after opening, he retired on November 15, 1971. During his years of business in the community, he had many Davidson College students, community leaders, and even Secretary of State Dean Rusk visit his shop.

In his retirement he wrote a memoir entitled David Played a Harp. It addresses the humorous side of his life and business as well as the painful issues of segregation and division in a small southern town. Johnson died at age 97 in Mooresville, North Carolina, on November 21, 2001.


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Language of Materials



Ralph Johnson (1904-2001) was a prominent Black businessman in Davidson, North Carolina. He owned and operated Johnson's Barber Shop on Davidson's Main Street from 1921-1971, where he served many Davidson College students, community leaders, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk. This collection contains materials relating to his life and career, mostly consisting of photographs. Other items include biographical information as well as published articles. Materials are dated c1921-c1971.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The immediate source and date of acquisition for this collection is unknown.

Condition Description

Materials are in good condition.

Processing Information

The processing, arrangement, and description of this collection was completed by Sydney Carroll.

Ralph Johnson Papers, c1921-c1971
In Progress
Sydney Carroll
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library Repository

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library-Main
310 N. Tryon Street
Charlotte NC 28202 USA