Rec­og­niz­ing lo­cal his­tory

The Covington News - - Opinion -

Fe­bru­ary is Black His­tory Month, and each year we are treated to news­pa­per, mag­a­zine and television fea­tures of the con­tri­bu­tions of African-Amer­i­cans to cul­ture, science, arts and ath­let­ics in Amer­ica.

Typ­i­cally, the con­tri­bu­tions of African-Amer­i­cans right here in our own com­mu­nity get over­shad­owed by those of the bet­ter-known pi­o­neers of na­tional promi­nence. Re­cently For­rest Sawyer Jr. ap­proached the Cov­ing­ton/New­ton County Cham­ber of Com­merce with the idea of col­lab­o­rat­ing on some his­toric, lo­cal black busi­nesses and the im­pact they have had on Cov­ing­ton and New­ton County.

One of the old­est African-Amer­i­can busi­nesses in Cov­ing­ton is Sims Bar­ber Shop. Lo­cated on Hen­dricks Street, just off ofWash­ing­ton Street. In 1960, Thomas Sims and his fa­ther first be­gan cut­ting hair. In the early years, they were joined by Thomas’ two brothers, Hack­ney andWi­ley. In 1966, Thomas took over the op­er­a­tion. Hack­ney andWi­ley didn’t drop out of sight. Both went on to dis­tin­guished ca­reers. Hack­ney be­came Dr. Hack­ney Sims, sur­geon, and older broth­erWi­ley Sims spent his ca­reer with the Metropoli­tan At­lanta Rapid Tran­sit Author­ity, re­cently re­tir­ing.

Thomas car­ried on the fam­ily busi­ness, spend­ing the next 40-plus years as a com­mu­nity fix­ture, cut­ting hair and shav­ing loyal cus­tomers at the same lo­ca­tion. To­day, Sims Bar­ber Shop is a lo­cal icon, and his cus­tomers can be seen even to­day, await­ing their turn on benches out­side the shop, en­joy­ing the sun and con­ver­sa­tion.

In to­day’s world, where busi­nesses come and go, it’s com­fort­ing to be able to see th­ese ven­er­a­ble gen­tle­men, nod­ding to passers-by, wait­ing their turn to take their places in one of Cov­ing­ton’s old­est busi­nesses. It harkens back to a time when the pace was slower and life was per­haps sweeter. Sims Bar­ber Shop has qui­etly served their cus­tomers in Cov­ing­ton for nearly a half cen­tury, loy­ally and re­li­ably. The Cham­ber of Com­merce salutes this African-Amer­i­can owned and op­er­ated busi­ness dur­ing Black His­tory Month as part of our lo­cal his­tory.

An­other his­toric African-Amer­i­can busi­ness in Cov­ing­ton is the Town House Café. Lo­cated just around the cor­ner from Sims Bar­ber Shop, onWash­ing­ton Street off the Square. Ossie Lee Hamn started her busi­ness in 1965, just two doors down from its present lo­ca­tion.

It was truly a fam­ily busi­ness. Hamn’s mother, a school teacher, and her hus­band, a lo­cal farmer and school bus driver, could be seen at the Town House Café ev­ery evening af­ter school. They would sit, drink­ing cof­fee and sweet tea if busi­ness was slow, but when busi­nesses was brisk, they would both be up, pitch­ing in with what­ever needed do­ing.

Hamn’s sons James, Thomas and Stoney were fre­quently there, too, help­ing their Mother run the fam­ily busi­ness. James was the only full-time em­ployee; his brothers Thomas and Stoney were at­tend­ing classes at R. L. Cousins School. The fa­mous Cousins foot­ball team could be seen at the restau­rant al­most ev­ery day af­ter prac­tice, be­ing fed out of the good­ness of Hamn’s heart be­cause most were un­able to pay.

At the time, Cov­ing­ton was still legally seg­re­gated and the Town House had only black cus­tomers. But then, the oc­ca­sional white cus­tomer would come in and be wel­comed and fed by the Hamns and their cus­tomer base grew even more.

James and his mother ran the restau­rant for many years. Thomas and Stoney went off to col­lege and the mil­i­tary, still work­ing on and off at the café, but it was es­sen­tially Ossie Lee and her son James run­ning the busi­ness.

In 1984, Ossie Lee died and the busi­ness be­came James’s to op­er­ate. With the con­tin­ued help from Thomas and Stoney, James and his wife have built the café into a lo­cal, well-known in­sti­tu­tion. To­day, when peo­ple want South­ern cook­ing at its best, they go to the Town House Café where they can be as­sured of friendly ser­vice, great food and a true South­ern culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence. The Cham­ber of Com­merce salutes the Town House Café as a shin­ing ex­am­ple of suc­cess­ful busi­ness, great food and an out­stand­ing fam­ily tra­di­tion that ex­em­pli­fies Black His­tory Month right here in Cov­ing­ton.

If you would like to learn more about African-Amer­i­can his­tory in New­ton County, please visit www. afro-new­ton.wik­ispaces.com.

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