Author Karl Manke
"He will stand up for you."
One of the last remaining and most familiar symbols of small town America is the barber pole. The local independent barber, though dwindling in many places, is still a welcoming nostalgic figure on many Midwestern Main Streets today. You can help Karl by donating to his Supreme Court Legal Defense Fund, or why not buy a great book and a T-shirt!
Karl Manke has been cutting hair for three generations at his shop on Main Street in Owosso, Michigan. At 77-years-of-age and still full of curiosity and enthusiasm, he’s a community fixture. Karl is of course, like so many Main Street barbers, many things to many people — a listening ear, a source of local news and insight, commonsense wisdom and humor, an armchair psychologist and a practical philosopher, and even more — a popular published author of ten novels.
After more than two months of statewide emergency lockdown under the coronavirus pandemic, he was ordered to close his business and “Stay safe, stay at home.” So Karl did what he was told under executive orders from Governor Gretchen Whitmer who insisted it was a public healthcare necessity until COVID-19 cases in the state “flattened the curve.” So Karl was paying close attention to the news, and the data on the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan. But the data was scarce, incomplete, and didn’t seem to make sense after two months while there were very few cases in his community, and across the state outside Detroit. Karl kept reading, kept researching, kept doing more homework.
Governor Whitmer had, from the beginning, made determinations of what kinds of people and businesses were deemed essential, and what kinds of people and businesses were deemed nonessential. Liquor stores, recreational marijuana dispensaries, sales of lotto tickets, abortions, and a few other select establishments were deemed essential to sustaining human life while other small family businesses serving multiple generations and facing potential hardship or even bankruptcy were told they must remain closed. But these determinations were clearly arbitrary and didn’t make sense.
When it got to the point that the COVID-19 apex had passed in Michigan, and cases were rapidly decreasing it appeared Governor Whitmer had no intention of actually allowing small business owners to open and return to productivity. In fact, money was doled out to many workers across the state as a disincentive to return to work at all. But almost nothing was offered to small business owners who were simply trying to survive.
With his decision to quietly and safely return to work, open the shop, and take care of customers who have been coming to him for generations, it was also the beginning of a dramatic change in Karl‘s life. He understood the hygienic safety guidelines, and he understood the risks. And he understood the feelings and needs of his friends, and neighbors, and other honest, hard-working Americans.
Karl was exercising a civil and constitutional right in the midst of a constitutional crisis in Michigan. Governor Whitmer had circumvented her own legislature to unilaterally enforce her arbitrary closure decisions while denying FOIA requests and hiding complete hospitalization and healthcare data from Michigan citizens and policymakers.
You can help Karl pay his lawyers by getting these great shirts or his books! The shirts are all American made from the cotton to the screen printing.
It wasn’t long before the word was out that Karl was cutting hair again and not only Karl’s faithful customers came to him, but customers from across the state, and from across the country they started showing up at his door. While it took Karl by surprise, it wasn’t long before he became a symbol of something simple, but something greater and more significant than an exasperated local barber who simply wanted to get back to work. It meant something encouraging, even something courageous to others.
In his plain-spoken style and with his sense of understated humor, Karl simply explained himself and people identified with his plight, his concerns, and his desire to exercise his constitutional rights to safely and respectfully get back to work. He didn’t ask anybody to come and see him, he just turned on the lights, doing the best he could, and tried to accommodate the increasing throngs of people that showed up.
It wasn’t long before the police showed up, too. Privately, initially, to thank Karl and let him know he was loved by his community. And the Michigan state police showed up rather reluctantly, to respectfully serve Carl papers, At the Governor’s behest, with one of their fellow officers actually sitting in the barber’s chair. A bit of ironic humor and humanity.
The rest, as they say, is history, but it’s a history that is still in the making every day now. Soon people were calling Karl “America’s Barber” and the familiar telephone that was itself nearly half-a-century old but still hanging on his wall was nearly ringing off the hook. Requests, appointments, interviews, national news crews showing up, crowds, rallies, protesters, counter protesters, more news crews, and more folks from across the state and beyond.
Nevertheless, Karl still gave each individual customer his full attention and professional care. And he continues cutting away to this day while the case is being addressed at the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals level in the State of Michigan.
Thanks for taking time, for reading, for caring, and for joining Karl on his journey, and joining other Americans in making their voices heard in the midst of this time of constitutional crisis and apparently much misunderstanding. Hope you’ll take time to listen, to get to know Karl better, and see if you share some of his concerns and ideas.
Stay tuned, and if you’re coming to town, make an appointment with “America’s Barber.” You’re sure to get the friendly attention and commonsense wisdom Karl’s been sharing with his customers for three generations.