William "Sonny" Lea

Marker is located on the Southeast Corner of Arctic and Kentucky Avenues.

Marker Text:
Born in Caswell County N.C. and raised in Danville, Va., Sonny relocated to Atlantic City after being honorably discharged from the United States Air Force. He worked in various hotels and restaurants before he began working as a barber at the Little New York Barbershop. Later, he cut hair at Grace’s Little Belmont Hair Salon before opening his own shop in 1975, all on the famed Kentucky Avenue. Sonny’s Barbershop has been the training ground for a new generation of barbers in Atlantic City, many of whom have started their own shops. More importantly, over the years, Sonny has mentored countless young people and sponsored a plethora of community events. A pillar in the community, he is a tireless advocate for youth education coupled with athletics. Sonny serves as a commissioner for the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority and is an original steering committee member for the Battle by the Bay basketball showcase. He is best known as the Historian of the enduring Kentucky Avenue legacy.

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Additional information:

“KY and the Curb,” the block of Kentucky Avenue from Arctic to Atlantic Avenues, was an epicenter of community and nightlife activity for Atlantic City’s African American population for much of the 20th century. As a worker in no less than three Kentucky Avenue barbershops, Sonny Lea has been witness to it all. During his time at Grace’s Little Belmont Hair Salon, which was located right across the street from Club Harlem, Sonny often received famous performers as clients. Slappy White, BB King, and even Muhammad Ali were among a long list of celebrities that had their hair cut by Sonny. Sonny Lea first came to Atlantic City in 1960, and performed a series of jobs around the resort, including busing tables at Child’s Restaurant and the Knife and Fork Inn, and working as a bellhop and doorman at the Empress and Mayflower hotels. It is in his career as a barber, however, that he has left his mark on the Atlantic City community. Sonny has served as a mentor and father figure to countless neighborhood youths over the years. During the dedication ceremony for his marker, Councilman Frank Gilliam spoke of how Sonny’s caring even extended to sending him care packages while away at college. Another speaker touched on the significance of Sonny’s marker only bearing one date, and how fitting it is to honor him during his lifetime. Sonny Lea’s marker is located at the corner of Arctic and Kentucky Avenues, just down the street from Sonny’s Hair Salon.

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