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Mr. Bobby's Barbershop

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The three stone steps now in front of you are all that remain of Mr. Bobby Saunders’ Barbershop. But if these steps could talk, they would tell you fantastic stories; stories about chess games and gossip; stories about accomplishment and friendship. But mostly, they would tell you the story of Bobby Saunders, one of the biggest movers-and-shakers of this community. 

Bernard, or Bobby Saunders was born in Newark in 1911, but his family name has been associated with this community since early in the community’s development. Griffin and Grace Sanders settled in the area during slavery, as free and land-owning people. Griffin and Grace Sanders appear in census records from 1870 to 1900. Their son William, during whose lifetime “Sanders” turned into “Saunders” was born around 1863 and appears in subsequent census records as well. William Saunders was a known leader in the New London Road Community, and his son Bobby followed in his footsteps. 

Like many of his fellow community members, Bobby Saunders was committed to his education, and took the train from Elkton up to Wilmington in order to attend Howard High School, the only high school in the state that would admit black students until the 1950’s. Bobby Saunders graduated from Howard in 1928. Saunders’ contributions to the community began soon after he graduated high school. To combat the lack of options for the black community members, Bobby Saunders began by building two tennis courts and a tennis association in the 1930s because black people were not allowed to play on white courts. Following the tennis courts, Bobby and his wife Dorothy built a pool hall-gas station-snack bar combination in 1946, which was located at the intersection of New London Road and Cleveland Avenue. Such a business contributed to the community’s ability to be self-sufficient. That shop, though, was purchased by Newark in the 1960’s in order to widen the road. Mr. Bobby himself tells Denise Hayman about his attitude toward his business in the community,

“Oh yeah 1946 is when we opened a combination pool room, grocery store and snack bar… We did it because we just loved people…” ​

In addition to owning and operating these businesses, the Saunders were also dedicated to promoting the well being of their community in a variety of ways. They helped establish the Newark Athletic Club football team, a bowling team and bridge club. The Saunders also gained admittance to several all-white social clubs, opening the door for other blacks to join as well.

Mr. Bobby is perhaps best remembered for his barbershop, which stood right where you are standing now. He ran the barbershop with another entrepreneur, Mr. Jack, also known as Uncle Earl. Certainly, you could come here for a haircut, but the community remembers the barbershop as offering much more. Arnold Saunders remembers what it was like getting your hair cut:

“he had a barbershop where everybody met, usually on a Saturday to get your hair cut, and at that time to save money you’d have to get a bald head. I mean, all your hair was cut off as a kid. I can remember one time, my mother had five boys in a row, we decided we were going to get a trim up, what they called a trim up, and that’s not all your hair cut off, so we were [inaudible.] up to get this trim up but as soon as we got home, I tell you, we got turned right back around and sent right back to the barber shop to get all our hair cut off, and I didn’t understand why at the time, but the time was, if you got a trim up that means I had to go to the barbershop more than usual to get a haircut and that costs money, but if we got a bald head, it was less money to spend for haircuts for kids.”

The area behind and to the right of Mr. Bobby’s Barbershop was once a big open area known as Big Field. Big Field was an important part of the community. Athletics and sports provided both much needed relaxation and social gatherings. Several open areas, such as Big Field and Green’s Field, which you will see on this tour, were sites of organized sporting endeavors, such as baseball and football. Many of these teams went on to compete at the semi-professional level, traveling as far away as Annapolis, Washington DC and Philadelphia to play other black teams. Several professional athletes have come out of the community as well, such as Kenneth Hall, Conway and Gary Hayman and Pedro Swann JR. Clarence “Pepper” Wigam explains how sports affected the community.

"They were outstanding athletes that played at Newark High School. that was the incentive to make you do good. On with sports, but also keeping the grades too."​

Brad “Doc” Lane is another accomplished athlete from the community. Named the 1991 Delaware State Wrestling-Man-of-the-year, Doc coached wrestling camp at the University of Delaware and is still an active athlete and community member.

Once you are ready to continue, walk north along New London Road and turn right onto Cleveland Avenue. 

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489