Mr. Soapy Reflects on Coming to Americus and Cutting President Carter’s Hair

Published 6:37 pm Friday, August 25, 2023

James “Soapy” Herndon’s barber shop has long been a downtown fixture. Residents are used to seeing Michael Johnson selling watermelons outside the store front. I recently stopped by and talked with Mr. Soapy to learn more about the history of the barber shop.
Mr. Soapy started by telling me about coming to Americus with three or four years experience.
“I come up here in 1960 from Tifton Georgia.”
He told how long he had been cutting hair.
“Probably about sixty-five years. Long time. I’ve always liked what I do. I never said ‘boy I hate to go to work.’ I’ve always liked my work. I can’t wait to come every day. But now I’m getting old.”
“I can still cut hair.” Mr. Soapy glowed as he talked about his profession.
He also told about getting started in a new town and offering a first-time customer a free hair cut if he would help spread the word about his business.
“You go to school and get all your buddies. You get a haircut, and I’ll give you a free haircut. He’s still my friend. He comes in here every day. And he still hasn’t got that free haircut.”
Mr. Johnson added that he would often say “’I still haven’t got that free haircut yet.”
Mr. Soapy also showed me several pictures of himself and President Carter.
“John Polk, he was one my best friends, I used to cut his hair about every week, and he got me hooked up with Jimmy Carter.”
“We’d go out on Friday nights, go and eat at someone’s house. On the weekend we’d would go dancing.”
“He was a peanut farmer back then.”
“I’ve known him for a long time. I cut his hair for a long time.”
He talked about how President Carter would come before he started getting his hair cut in Plains.
“I’d be in here and the phone would ring and they’d call me up and say ‘Soapy, President Carter needs a haircut,’ I’d say ‘Well send him on.’ He’d come with about three or four secret service. They’d have one in the car with him, and there’d be a secret service car behind him.”
“If him came in by himself, they’d stand outside and just watch.”
“That’d been a long time ago.”
I asked about the produce boxes and watermelons out front.
“If I didn’t have Michael, I couldn’t do that.”
“Michael and I used to leave here about 3:30 in the morning, every Sunday morning. We would go to the farmer’s market in Atlanta and get a whole truck load of vegetables and unload some for the shop and the rest we’d start peddling all afternoon.”
Turning to Mr. Johnson, he asked:
“We did that about thirty years?”
Mr. Johnson answered:
“He was going up there before I started working for him. I started working for him in 2010. When I first started going out with him, he’d just take me with him whenever we would go get the pumpkins in the fall.”
“I’ve been here since. . . December it will be sixteen years.”
Mr. Soapy described first meeting Mr. Johnson.
“First time I saw him, I didn’t know where he came from. I saw him on the street. I was trying to find out how he got up here, did he catch a bus, a ride? Guess what he told me? He said he walked up here.”
“I started off in Sebastian Florida,” Mr. Johnson declared.
When asked if he walked the whole way, Mr. Johnson made a thumbs up sign. He described his own journey to Americus.
“The big walk I had was from Thomasville to Camillia.”
“It took me all night.”
“That’s about forty miles. I walk pretty fast. Five miles per hour is a pretty fast walk. The sun was going down whenever I left and it hadn’t quite come up when I got to Camillia.”