License to Exclude: Black Barbers in Arkansas


  • Tanner Corley University of Alabama, USA
  • Wendy Lucas University of Central Arkansas, USA
  • Marcus Witcher Huntington College, USA


occupational licensing; Black history; business history; cartel theory; Journeymen Barber’s International Union of America.


In the early twentieth century, predominantly white union barbers in Arkansas implemented voluntary regulations that dictated business practices to create a voluntary cartel. Black and other minority barbers who often had more success than white barbers prior to unionization tended to ignore these regulations, destabilizing the union’s cartel. Lacking a strong enforcement mechanism, white union members turned to the state to eliminate what they saw as unfair competition. By implementing a licensure law and creating the Board of Barber Examiners in 1937, established barbers were able to give themselves a stark advantage over future entrants into the profession. The law was detrimental to minority barbers. Black barbers failed to pass barber licensure exams at an equivalent rate as their white counterparts, and the number of Black barbers in Arkansas decreased significantly over the decade that the regulations were implemented. In making our assertions, we examine primary sources regarding the Journeymen Barber’s International Union of America, while also keeping in mind the data on pass rates, the composition of regulations, and exams that the Board of Barber Examiners implemented. Though scholars often assume that licensure laws harm minorities, we provide a detailed case study to support those claims.