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Literary series finale to feature Barber of Natchez

The “Saluting William Johnson” literary seminar will be from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday Feb. 7 at the Judge George W. Armstrong Public Library in downtown Natchez. The event is free and open to the public.

The “Saluting William Johnson” literary seminar will be from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday Feb. 7 at the Judge George W. Armstrong Public Library in downtown Natchez. The event is free and open to the public.

The final seminar in a literary series leading up to the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration will feature the works of “The Barber of Natchez,” who wrote without ever knowing he would be published.

William Johnson, born in 1809, was a free person of color and is well known for being a successful businessman and the owner of three barbershops in Natchez, said Darrell White, director of cultural heritage tourism for the City of Natchez.

In 1951, 100 years after Johnson’s death, two scholars from Louisiana State University — Dr. Edwin Adams Davis and Dr. William Ransom Hogan — published his diaries, NLCC founder and co-chairman Carolyn Vance Smith said.

The two LSU scholars also wrote a biography about Johnson titled “The Barber of Natchez.”

“White men would go to the barber shop on a regular basis,” Smith said. “It was like a modern day spa. They could take a bath; they could have their hair colored (and have) their boots shined. While they were there they would trade news.”

Johnson, after a long day of tending to his customers, would go home and write down in his diary what he had learned, including his own opinions of what the men discussed.

“It was just personal for him. He had no idea that (the diaries) would be published,” Smith said.

Smith was sure to credit Davis and Hogan for their extensive research of the life of Johnson.

“Without those scholars being so interested in him, we wouldn’t have the William Johnson House today,” she said.

The fifth and final event of the literary series is titled “Saluting William Johnson” and will acknowledge William Johnson the man, his diaries and his biography. The event will include an impersonation of Johnson by White, a screening of the dedication of the William Johnson House to the Natchez National Historical Park and a free tour of the William Johnson House.

White has done extensive research on Johnson for the past 20 years and aims to inform “today’s audience that there were educated, economically free people of color in the community in the years prior to the Civil War.”

The dedication of the William Johnson House to the Natchez National Historical Park took place on May 30, 1991. The remarks of Mary Louise Miller, who is part of the Johnson family, are a part of the film, Smith said.

The William Johnson House is the original site for one of Johnson’s three barbershops. The museum is located at 210 State St., just past the historic downtown railroad depot.

“We are very thrilled to have this opportunity to showcase William Johnson and to make sure everyone knows about his extraordinary nature,” Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said.

The seminar will be from 2 to 5 p.m., Saturday Feb. 7 at the Judge George W. Armstrong Public Library in downtown Natchez. The event is free and open to the public.

The literary series is titled The Power of Place: The Natchez Impact on Five Extraordinary Authors.

The NLCC will be Thursday, Feb. 26, through Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Natchez Convention Center.

For more information, call 1-866-296-NLCC or email nlcc.colin.edu.