LAURINBURG — A Scotland County resident and also staple to the Richmond County community was given North Carolina’s highest civilian honor, The Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award on Sunday, which was presented by State Rep. Garland Pierce of Wagram.
James Cromartie, “the barber with a smile” has been cutting, laughing, shaving, praying, styling, sharing, and handing out advice for close to 55 years — and he’s still going strong. The man that has become a Richmond County institution has no immediate plans to stop.
Cromartie was born and raised in Lumber Bridge and attended North Carolina A & T in Greensboro for one year before having to return home after his father fell ill to take care of the farm.
He then moved to Durham where he worked briefly for his uncle as a construction worker. Still searching for his passion, he decided to go to barber school to become a master barber.
Bull City Barber College in Durham was the institution Cromartie attended. After completion of Barber College, he learned of opportunities and possibilities in Hamlet and decided to go there to hone his trade.
He worked for Carson Mudd for several years before ultimately taking over the business and starting Cromartie’s Barber Shop in 1965.
Now, 51 years later, Cromartie is the recipient of the highest civilian honor that can be awarded by North Carolina’s governor.
On Sunday, Cromartie received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine Award — given to those who have shown exemplary service to the state and their communities.
Pierce, D-Scotland, presented the award during a surprise engagement at Franklin Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church in Laurinburg. Cromartie was nominated for the award by Pierce.
When Pierce made the announcement, Cromartie — standing among a crowd of his family and church family — smiled slightly and shook his head as he accepted the award.
“I was totally surprised, but it was without a doubt the greatest honor in my lifetime,” Cromartie said. “To be presented the award by the Rep. Pierce and Gov. McCrory’s office, it’s just a great honor.”
When Pierce presented the award, he talked about how important community staples, such as barber shops are and how they provide “a place of calm for the community when there may be chaos around us.”
“It was a real delight and treat to be a part of the celebration,” Pierce said.
Cromartie is fortunate to have been around to witness and be a part of the glorious history of Richmond County. From the Civil Rights movement to the prevalence of the railroad industry, to the Imperial Foods processing plant tragedy, Cromartie’s Barber Shop has been a hub for the Richmond County community.
“Folks like to be listened to….and I’m a good listener,” Cromartie said. He says that he relishes the role he plays in people’s lives. “From good ol’ belly laughing to tears of frustration and confusion….it all happens right here”, says Cromartie.
Pierce also commented on how he has impacted not only Richmond County, where his business has been for the past 55 years, but also Scotland County where he resides and is an active member of Franklin Chapel church. “He has been able to touch two communities — Richmond and Scotland,” Pierce said.
Cromartie says that, “many lasting and special relationships have been developed over the years and that’s how I came up with a slogan for the shop many years ago that says it all — ‘Through my doors walk some of the finest people on earth – my customers.’”
Cromartie’s success and longevity can be attributed to something he says he always taught his 3 children, “It’s just nice…to be nice.”