BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Trotter Keeps Jefferson Street Gem Going

Craighead Barbershop owner Joe Trotter. Photo by Russell Rivers, Jr.

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Joe Trotter’s been retired for a while now, but he can still be found at Craighead Barber Shop on 1505 Jefferson Street five days a week.

It’s the oldest barber shop on Jefferson and was opened in 1947 by Robert Craighead, who worked there until he passed away at the age of 97.

Trotter would like to follow suit. “I plan on being here as long as I’m able to keep going,” he said.

Craighead has been named Tennessee’s best by Barbershops of America and he still brings in customers.

Trotter grew up in rural Montgomery County working on the family farm with his nine siblings harvesting corn and tobacco with his parents, Aaron and Ester Trotter. His mother took care of the children until they were grown, when she began working in foodservice for the school system for 20 years, he said. His wife, Elsie, worked as a caretaker until she retired from Vanderbilt to take care of her and Joe’s parents in their last days. The two have a daughter, 50, and a son, 43, who both work factory jobs.

Farming wasn’t the life he saw for himself. He worked on the farm until he graduated high school and left for the military in 1968, moving to Nashville. Coming back from military service in Germany, he joined the Army Reserves and was a master sergeant. He saw active duty during George H.W. Bush’s Desert Shield and Desert Storm guarding Iraqi prisoners of war as military police. He’s been retired from the military for 24 years.

“The military was really good, I think, for me,” he said of the experience. “I really enjoyed it and I had some bad assignments but it was very good to me.”

The shop and its inhabitants have seen the transformation of what was once a thriving center of Black businesses into a physically-fractured community chopped up by commercial enterprises, “tall and skinnies,” and infrastructure. 

Barbers and customers witnessed the emergence of the Civil Rights effort play out along Jefferson, where historically Black colleges Fisk and Tennessee State University are located. 

Both Craighead and the historic street it sits on have beaten the odds of urban decay and remained staples of the African American community. 

“In the1980s or early 90s, here on Jefferson things changed tremendously … It’s changing all around us,” he said.

He heard stories about it “from day one before he got here,” and he recalled the musicians and clubs that made Jefferson famous. “This is the last go around for Black people [here],” he said, adding he was concerned but it’s time for a change– a good one.

For his part, he’s determined to continue cutting the hair of his regular customers at Craighead.

Through the years the shop saw its own changes. He worked with Mr. Craighead for a little more than a decade, who left the shop to him. “At one time we had three different employees but a few passed away or retired,” he said.  Since then he’s been there by himself, but he likes it that way. He feels freer and can come and go as he pleases.

“It’s been good,” he said of his life. “I still have a lot to do but I just do what I can.”

Very wise words indeed.

Taking Preventive Steps to a Healthy Heart, Healthy Life

By Sandra Long Weaver
Tribune Editorial Director

NASHVILLE, TN — African Americans are not taking enough preventive actions to stave off heart disease, according to Reginald Dickerson, M.D., an interventional cardiologist with the St. Thomas Hospital Heart Group based in Nashville.

“Education is in the forefront of prevention of cardiac disease,” said Dickerson, who is based at Sumner Regional Medical Center in Gallatin. “It can be mitigated by hypertension, the silent killer, renal disease” and other factors. You can be asymptomatic and not

Reginald Dickerson, M.D.

know you have heart disease “because you are not hurting.”

Medicine has transitioned from event-related to preventive, he said. “You need to be diagnosed early and treated to reduce risk of heart attacks, he continued. “It’s important to identify early. This should be done through routine screening. Preventive methods “should also encompass diet, low fat foods and low cholesterol. These are all related to the onset of heart disease.”

One of the major issues is hypertension, the silent killer, Dickerson said. “When African Americans are not (regularly) evaluated or have adverse reactions to medications, they tend to back off of treatment.” But having shortness of breath, swelling in legs, visual disturbance are symptoms of uncontrolled hypertension, he said.  

February, which is American Heart Month, is a good reminder “that an initial evaluation and screening is necessary whether you feel well or not,” said Dickerson who has practiced here for 12 years out of his nearly 40-year career. In addition to his general practice in cardiology, he also intervenes where necessary with balloons or stents.

“Everyone should have a baseline. Once a baseline is performed and if issues are uncovered, the issues need to be evaluated and addressed and medical advice needs to be followed,” he said.

“The person needs to be asymptomatic prior to the onset of symptoms,” he said. “You may think you are healthy because  you have not been hurting. But now you are here (in an emergency situation) at the juncture of an event with symptoms and now saying fix me. But now it’s not fix me. It’s keep me alive. Fixing occurs prior to the event. After the event, it’s catch up,” Dickerson said.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of Americans, men and women, and kills a disproportionate number of African Americans.

He added there are two different issues about heart health. 

 “The first is the basic issue of cardiac disease and coronary artery disease related to genetics that we can’t control and environmental factors that we can control.”

You have to look at the risk factors for coronary disease, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol, obesity, inactivity and smoking, Dickerson said. 

“Some of the major problems that we entertain as (medical) professionals is compliance and education. You have to have compliance with the diagnosis, the medication prescribed and avoidance of tobacco use,” he said. “And people need to be in an activity program that is relativity consistent.”

The symptoms and incidents of heart issues prior to and during pandemic has been about the same, Dickerson said. Is the COVID-19 infection exacerbating the issue or is the pandemic infection a separate cardiovascular complication? 

He said that issue hasn’t been totally evaluated because cardiovascular disease so common. He added that it is difficult to tell whether the person’s symptoms are related to COVID or if it is due to hypertension.

“I think that knowledge of the issues is probably the most important of preventive medicine,” Dickerson said. “Knowledge of the baseline condition is critical. “And knowledge will decrease progress of disease processes.”

Raymond C. Smith, Sr.; Humility, Hard Work and Humanity

By Ashley Benkarski

NASHVILLE, TN — Born August 7, 1941 to Mr. Henry E. Smith and Odessa E. Smith, Raymond Smith Sr. grew up in Statesville, N.C. His parents protected him and his seven siblings — six boys, one girl– from the hardships they’d gone through themselves in the South. His parents tried keeping within the community to help shield the children from segregation, having them attend Morningside Elementary and High School, both of which were nearby.

His father worked for the state but wasn’t making much money while his mother worked for a prominent family who treated them well, he said. “We lived a very simple life. My mother and father were Christians and they taught us the Christian way of life,”

Raymond C. Smith, Sr. Courtesy photo

Raymond Sr. said. 

“We did what we could to help mom and daddy. Sometimes food was skimpish but we knew how to make ends meet.”

At nine years old he worked for a shoe shining parlor. Laughing, he said he didn’t really know what he was doing but “polishing shoes and popping the rag.” When the kids made money, they’d give it to their parents to help.

He loved attending church and having company at their house, harboring a fondness for the elderly members he knew. He spent his free time playing baseball, his favorite sport, as well as softball and football with community leagues.

He went to Washington in 1953, attending Shore Junior High School before moving on to high school in 1956.

His mother fell ill the next year and his father was struggling, he said, so he changed schools to Armstrong to take a trade course in auto mechanics and electricity. When the school closed in 1958, Raymond Sr. began attending Cardoza High School.

He dropped out when he met the love of his life, Brenda Patterson, marrying her soon after at the age of 18. He was working for Mr. William Oscar Owens at a barber shop as a shop boy, shining shoes, serving the barbers and keeping the shop clean. Owens, a National Negro League pitcher nicknamed “Cannon Ball,” took Raymond Sr. under his wing. “He treated me very, very nice. Taught me a lot about Black history, integrity, and work ethic,” he said. “I learned a lot out of that little shop.”

He left in 1958 and went to Indian Springs Country Club working in the men’s locker room pressing clothes and continuing his shoe shine business. The club had a barber shop and Raymond Sr. worked there under Nat Kurtz for a few years before moving on to work for GEICO in 1960.

Lamar A. Davison was a member at the club and, unbeknownst to Raymond Sr., was GEICO’s president at the time. Davison influenced him to apply. He started working for the maintenance department on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift. “From there the rest is history,” he said.

Within six months he became assistant supervisor in the department, but the hiring manager, Thomas J. Andrews, wasn’t immediately on board– he felt Raymond Sr. was too young– but Andrews gave him a chance after proving his work ethic. Interestingly, Andrews performed Raymond Sr. and Brenda’s wedding.

Eventually Davison asked Raymond Sr. to work in GEICO’s clerical department in the stockroom as a stock clerk, making him the first African American at the time to do so. He was promoted to the photocopy department as a paper cutter, then a Xerox operator, then a pressman. He ascended to the role of foreman in the print shop and was able to apply his mechanical skills to fix the equipment.

Months later he was asked to become the assistant supervisor over the print shop, a job he held for about three years. During that time he took on the role of supervisor as well when his manager left for another job.

Despite the promotions and Raymond Sr.’s ability to take on both roles alone he was never officially named to the position– he’d heard the company wasn’t ready to hire a Black supervisor.

He “knew God had another door open for him,” he said, so he continued moving forward.

He heard of a job opening with the Central Intelligence Agency in Virginia and filled out the paperwork. Unfortunately, government workers were striking so he didn’t get the job.

Shifting focus, he applied to GEICO’s engineering department.

He met David L. Coffey and they became very close friends, working together nearly 50 years. Coffey offered guidance to Raymond Sr. in his new job and, when family responsibilities came up as they’re wont to do, Coffey made sure Raymond Sr. was there to take care of them.

Raymond Sr. and Brenda had three sons together. Eldest Raymond Jr. is blind and spends much of his time in advocacy work and volunteering. He’s the Commissioner for Prince George’s County Handicap and Blind Community and sits on the board of Port Town, Maryland

Parks and Planning. He’s also been to the White House on several occasions to lobby compliance of disability rules and regulations in corporations and make sure they’re current.

“He has a great responsibility,” Raymond Sr. said. “I don’t let a day go by without thanking my God because while he was doing all of this he got appendicitis, and he coded [flatlined] twice and was brought back twice.” 

The hospital trip revealed that Raymond, Jr. had a heart problem. He was fitted with a stint but that hasn’t slowed him down.

Kevin Eugene Darden Smith is a Johnson C. Smith University social work graduate and works for the government in a youth division supporting various groups by making reports and counseling. He also takes part in parenting groups providing guidance and needed items to impoverished families, as he’s seen children who’ve run away because their needs aren’t being met.

“He’s doing a fine job,” Raymond Sr. proudly remarked.

The couple’s third son Everett, 41, was a cameraman for Save the Seed Ministries World Wide Television Ministry and had just gotten through a day of filming September 11, 2002 with T.D. Jakes when the driver fell asleep, killing him. He left behind wife Cherylene, three children and one grandchild.

Raymond Sr. recalled the friendship of his coworkers who helped him and his family through their many instances of heartache. Naum Rosenfelt, a coworker he speaks with regularly, jumped to his mind. “This man hardly knew my family but he knew me, and when my oldest son’s wife Nia got sick and passed four years ago, Naum and his wife treated my son and her just like they were his own relatives,” he said. Naum drove from his home in Virginia to Maryland for her funeral services.

Despite the actions the company took in his earlier days, Raymond Sr. said he believed the company has come a long way in terms of progress. “I can look back now and look and see the progress that they are making and the progress that they have done,” he remarked.

It’s this theme of friendship and camaraderie that Raymond Sr. reflected on most, and he could tell you the first and last names of many coworkers throughout his 60 years of employment at GEICO. “They didn’t miss the mark of hiring good people to work in the company,” he said. “Many go beyond their limits to help their team.”

He acknowledged the people he worked side-by-side with throughout his years at GEICO, expressing gratitude for the staff of the engineering and Real Estate and Facilities Management departments, namely Terry Perkins and Derrick Marlard.

Now, he’s able to enjoy retirement with his wife. 

Reflecting, Raymond Sr. offered wisdom.

“I try to live my life in a way that people can respect me, respect my family and respect those around me. We are always attached to someone, something, somewhere.”