This post is part of our blog series “Scholars Speak,” which features writing from our 2023 cohort of Preservation Scholars. Click the link to learn more about this donor-funded program that aims to increase the diversity of voices in the Texas historical narrative by placing students from underrepresented cultural and ethnic backgrounds in paid, 10-week long summer internship positions at the Texas Historical Commission.
Scholars Speak: Fostering a Love for Culture and Community
by Dzifa Tse, 2023 Preservation Scholar
For my internship project, the African-American Travel Guide Survey Project, I have been researching African-American businesses in Houston that were listed in various travel guides dating to early 1930s to late 1960s. One of the figures who has stood out to me while working on my research was Malik Abdal-Khallaq. Abdal-Khallaq was a native Texan who served in the Second World War and founded one of the sites I am researching, Beau Brummel’s Tonsorial in Houston, and later opened another Beau Brummel Tonsorial in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1944. Abdal-Khallaq was a civil rights advocate; he converted to Islam and changed his name from Reginald Johnson and had many accomplishments over the course of his life, including establishing Roxbury’s first mosque. He was an advocate for education, spoke and wrote in Arabic and taught his children to do so as well. From the 1960s, Abdal-Khallaq began displaying objects from his travels to Sudan and Egypt inside of his barbershop which went on to become another store, A Nubian Notion, a cornerstone of Roxbury. In 2019, the square his shops sat upon was renamed “Nubian Square” in honor of his second store, A Nubian Notion.
The reason Abdal-Khallaq’s story stood out to me was because of just how much impact he had on his community. I read several stories from his family and neighbors not just about how much he valued African-Americans taking pride in their own history and community but how these values have stuck with the community through time. For example, I came across a story about Abdal-Khallaq agreeing to hang a banner of a customer’s graduate school, Harvard, but only if the customer brought a banner from Abdal-Khallaq’s undergraduate, the HBCU Howard University. Over the years this became a tradition of hanging customer’s college banners in the barber shop right up until the shop closed.
I think that this story is important because it shows just how much impact a single person can make. Abdal-Khallaq knew the importance of fostering a love for culture and community and passed that on to his family, customers, and his own community, and it is a love that has continued through the decades.