Albert D. Neal first appeared in city directories at this address in 1955, but the dwelling probably was constructed a year or so earlier. A star quarterback at West Charlotte High School in his youth, then an Army sergeant who helped load the first atomic bomb in World War II, A.D. Neal became one of black Charlotte’s best known barbers and community elders.
“If you are a male and native Charlottean, chances are A.D. Neal gave you, or your son, and/or grandson your first haircut,” said his funeral program in 2016. “His career as a barber spanned more than 75 years to include over 50 years of owning and operating Neal’s Barber Shop.”
Born and raised in Charlotte, Albert D. Neal (1.22.1923 – 4.17.2016) set his course to community leadership when he was still in high school. West Charlotte High had just opened on Beatties Ford Road (the 1938 building now holds Northwest School of Arts). A.D. — as everyone called him — not only became the new school’s first football quarterback, but also help write its school song.
“After graduation he entered the United States Army in 1943 and made Staff Sergeant in only eight months,” noted his funeral program. In 1945, the military brass tapped him to be “the foreman who loaded the first atomic bomb.”
Neal came home from World War II to a long career as one of black Charlotte’s most loved barbers. He had started at age six shining shoes. At thirteen he had begun cutting hair, earning fifteen centers per customer. Now he launched his own Neal’s Barber Shop. Into the 2000s, his establishment at the edge of McCrorey Heights on Oaklawn Avenue just off Beatties Ford Road remained an important gathering spot — the place to go to catch up on westside news, enjoy informal political discussions or buy tickets to gospel music concerts.
Historically, barbers were often local leaders in black America. Neal took a quiet but significant role in Charlotte’s 1960 Civil Rights sit-ins, remembers activist Charles Jones. When Neal put his personal Cadillac into service carrying college students downtown to the protests, that was a powerful sign that the community stood behind the young protestors.
In addition to his barbering, Neal put his people skills to work helping the bereaved. “He became a licensed Funeral Director later in life,” said the obituary in his own funeral program, “and served at Northwest Funeral Home for eight years and at Alexander Funeral Home for fifty years.”
A.D. Neal took active roles in many community organizations. He belonged to Unique Lodge #85 of the Prince Hall Masons and also to the Masonic offshoot, the Shriners. He was a member of the Trojans, one of black Charlotte’s many small, local social clubs. At Friendship Missionary Baptist Church he sang bass in the choir. “He had the reputation of being dressed to the nines each Sunday,” noted his funeral program, “and would make sure that everyone got a view of his meticulously chosen ensemble.”
Neal was single when he moved into this house, according to the city directory. He had wed his high school sweetheart, Mildred Roberta Byers, in 1949 but she died in 1953 after just four years of marriage. In 1955 he married Willette Craine of Charlotte and brought her home to this house on Patton Avenue. She passed away in 1968.
One-story Cottage style house in red brick. Cottage style dwellings had more compact massing and steeper roofs than the Ranch style which was also popular in the 1950s. This house has a main gable roof, plus a projecting front gable over the living room, which features a large “picture” window. A prominent front chimney with a rustic sloping shoulder promises a welcoming hearth inside. The front-door has a round-arched top, characteristic of the Cottage style, and decorative stonework calls attention to the entrance.
The original owner took out a permit in 1959 to construct a rear addition. The “wrought iron” columns that support the front porch, and also the modernistic metal-frame windows in the front part of the house, may be from that renovation or a subsequent one. On the east side of the house, a small plywood-sheathed enclosed entryway and a storage room covered in corrugated metal appear to be later, hasty additions. A gable-roofed wood and brick carport, detached at the rear of the lot, is likely an addition by the original owner.
Date issued: March 24, 1959
Owner: Mr. & Mrs. Albert Neal
Contractor: Ed Griffin Const. Co.
Other permit info: to build addition
Building permit files, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.
First appeared in city directory
1955 – Albert D Neal. No occupation listed. No wife listed.
1961 – Albert D. Neal & Willette C. He: Neal’s Barber Shop
City directory collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.