Judge restores historic barber chair as symbol of civil rights


The 65-year-old barber chair that Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Carl Aveni recently placed in his courthouse chambers is more than a mid-20th century curiosity to the judge.

It's a piece of Columbus history that speaks to a centuries-long struggle.

The judge purchased the chair on a lark after seeing it advertised on Facebook Marketplace in July.

"I'm a fan of things with history, of things that tell a story," he said. "I've long thought of getting an old barber chair and cleaning it up and having it in my basement."

But he realized that this particular barber chair was special when he picked it up from Nelson Lynch, who was selling it while upgrading his barber shop on the East Side.

Lynch family: Pillars of Columbus' Black community

The chair's original owner was Nelson's father, Dave Lynch, and both are members of a family that was instrumental in the civil rights movement in Columbus. The chair had been a part of the Lynch barber business since 1957, when the shop was on Mount Vernon Avenue on the Near East Side, and as the shop moved over the years to each of three different locations on East Fifth Avenue.

Dave Lynch, who died in 2019, and his five siblings were pillars of Columbus' African American community. They included the late Dr. Orville Lynch Sr., an oral surgeon, and the late Amos Lynch Sr., who earned the nickname "Godfather of the Black Press" through his decades as editor of The Call and Post, and founder and publisher of The Columbus Post.

Amos, who served as a mentor to countless Black business leaders and political figures and was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall of Fame in 2011, could be found every week at his brother's barbershop, said Orville Lynch Jr., one of their nephews.

"In the Black community, there's a lot of significance to the barber shop or the beauty shop," Orville Jr. said. "That was our networking location, and still is... A lot of the big decisions and discussions and political deals — and endorsements that The Call and Post did — happened at Uncle Dave's barbershop."

Aveni, who was elected to the Common Pleas bench in November 2020, knew enough about the family to decide that his basement was no place for the Lynch barber chair.

"It clicked in my head that, in my basement, it was just going to be an object," Aveni said. "But this is an object that has meaning and history. "

Aveni decided to place the restored chair in his chambers at the Franklin County Courthouse earlier this month. There, he said, it is "more than just a barber chair. It's a reminder of some important things about Columbus' history and about societal progression toward justice."

He spent the past six months restoring the chair where he could find the room he needed (the garage of his parents' Columbus home), stripping it down to the frame, cleaning the metal and re-upholstering the seat with new leather.

"I didn't know what I was getting into," Aveni said. "I watched a lot of YouTube videos."

'The symbolism is so powerful'

Nelson Lynch and Orville Lynch Jr. were impressed with the results when they visited Aveni's chambers recently after the judge — with some help — hauled the 350-pound chair to the courthouse.

"It's beautiful," said Nelson Lynch, who started cutting hair alongside his father in 1991 and has operated the shop on his own since 2012.

"For me, the symbolism is so powerful," he said. "So many people have been in this chair, so many walks of life, so many dreams. All the energy of all those people who walked through those doors are in this. The dreams, the sad things that happened, the hopes, all of that is here. Anyone sitting here is going to feel it."

That's Aveni's hope. Rather than display it like a museum piece, he wants lawyers and others who visit his chambers "to literally put yourself in the place of the people who sat in this chair over the last half-century," he said.

"Sit where they sat and imagine the lives they lived."

Aveni's ultimate plan is to donate the chair to the courthouse so it is there long after his career as a judge is over.

To that end, he attached a plaque on one arm of the chair, outlining the history of the chair and the significance of the family who owned it, concluding with the following words:

"As you sit here, please reflect on the themes of Equity and Justice it represents."


Written By John Futty

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