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An African American Dentist and Civil Rights Leader in the early 1900's

As I was walking through a library one day I noticed a copy of Who's Who in the Colored Race. Colored was a word my grandmother used when she described African Americans. I started paging through it to see if there were any dentists. Then I looked online at the same book from 1917 and found a brief description about a dentist named Jesse Max Barber.

Niagra Movement Founders. J. Max Barber was one of the original 29 founders.
Public Domain
J. Max Barber
Public Domain

J. Max Barber started out as the son of former slaves Jesse and Susan (Crawford) Barber and was born on July 5, 1878 in Blackstock, South Carolina. Barber graduated from Friendship Institute in Rock Hill, S.C. in 1887. He actually worked as a barber while he completed training to be a teacher at Benedict College in Columbia S.C. and graduated from there in 1901.

At Virginia Union University he became student editor of the University Journal and was president of the Literary Society. He was then granted an A.B. degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond in 1903.

In 1903 Barber began working for a magazine he called Voice of the Negro in Atlanta, Georgia and became Editor-In-Chief.

The Niagra Movement started in 1905 and met on the Canadian side of the Niagra Falls. There was a group photo taken in a studio with a backdrop of Niagra Falls behind the group members. In the photo J. Max Barber is sitting next to W.E.B. DuBois, one of the founders of the movement. This group was started to band together to fight virtual slavery. They came out against poll taxes and literacy tests in order to vote. It was a forerunner of the civil rights movement for African Americans. J. Max Barber was one of the 29 founding members.

By 1906 Voice of the Negro became the leading black magazine in the United States with a circulation of 15,000. He continued as editor until he was driven from the city during the race riots in 1907.

"There has been no 'carnival of rapes' in and around Atlanta. There has been a frightful carnival of newspaper lies." - J. Max Barber in unsigned letter to The New York World about the race riots in Atlanta.

"The cause of the riot: Sensational newspapers and unscrupulous politicians" - J. Max Barber, 1907.

J. Max Barber fled Atlanta after the riots. The police came to talk with him.

"I did not care to be made a slave on a Georgia chain gang." - J. Max Barber on why he left town after the riots in Atlanta.

He published the paper pretty much by himself in Chicago after that. The Negro Voice was published there from 1907-1908. It was sold to T. Thomas Fortune and publication halted soon after.

Barber went to Philadelphia Dental College and was granted his D.D.S. in 1912.

On November 9, 1912 J. Max Barber married Hattie B. Taylor of Philadelphia. His home and office were located at 3223 Woodland Ave, Philadelphia, PA.

An article was published in The Crisis in February 1914 called "The Philadelphia Negro Dentist." Barber discussed how "colored" people went to white dentists and did not patronize "colored" dentists at first:

"Here, as all over the country, there were many colored people who did not, at first, patronize the colored dentist. This is the experience of all men of color in the professions. Nor was this unnatural. The race had been taught that white skin was a passport to virtue and honor and an insurance against blunders and inefficiency. And too, the black professional man had no experience. In striking contrast to the doubters, however, there were those whose race loyalty outweighed every other consideration. They took chances on one of their own, preferring one of their own race with a little less skill to a white man. The Negro professional man quickly dispelled doubt by his accomplishments. There certainly is now no reason he should not be patronized by the race." - J. Max Barber 1914

In 1917 Barber was a member of the Executive Committee and Vice-President of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Barber was also a Baptist and a member of the Philadelphia Odontographic Society. He also joined a club called "Negro Professional."

Dr. J Max Barber attended a statue dedication of John Brown, a famous abolitionist, on May 9,1935 in Lake Placid, NY. On that day he was elected president of the John Brown Memorial Association for the ninth consecutive year and said in his dedicatory address:

“After John Brown’s death, there could be no peace with slavery in the land.”

Dr. J. Max Baxter's courage to make a difference lives on in books, images and his writing long after his death. He had practiced dentistry continuously from 1912 until his death on September 20, 1949.

"Success must be measured by the good one is doing for his fellow man." - Dr. Jesse Max Baxter, 1914.

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