Donald Lee Warren

Richard Hylton
Friday June 14, 2019 - 11:04:00 AM

Berkeley lost one of its most inspired raconteurs and a longtime fixture in the African-American community with the sudden death of Donald Lee Warren, the longtime owner of Don’s Headquarters barbershop on Shattuck Street. Warren, who was 68, was known for his quick, acerbic wit and social commentaries. He was a barber for more than 50 years and served several generations of men and boys in many local families. He was also an entrepreneur and property owner who built deep ties to the local community in Berkeley as well as his hometown of Richmond. He died at home of natural causes on May 29th.

Walking into Don’s Headquarters was often like entering a television talk show that focused on the politics and social changes of the day. “Don,” as he was fondly known by customers and friends, was the sharp-tongued host of the show. His knowledge of American history, politics and African-American history regularly astonished the assembled customers, who ranged from UC Berkeley professors and researchers to city workers or terrified little boys brought by their fathers for their first haircut. He was a remarkably well-read interpreter of American political life. What kept his customers coming back to the Headquarters was not only excellent barbering, but Don’s cutting and humorous commentary and the startling honesty often expressed by the men gathered in his shop. With Don at the helm, the Headquarters sometimes seemed the Platonic ideal of a black barbershop: On any given day the place was loud with blunt truth telling and filled with peals of laughter and verbal fireworks. Several longtime customers noted repeatedly after his passing that Don ministered to much more than their grooming needs. His was also a social ministry that offered men and boys an open space for honest expression and conversation about the black experience in America. He also used his property and businesses to strengthen the local community, from giving young kids their first jobs to allowing an international charity to store donated books and educational equipment for South African schools in his building. 

Donald Warren was born on August 2, 1950, in Martinez, CA. He was the eighth of the nine children of Harvey and Rosie Mae Warren. The family moved to Richmond, CA, where Don was raised and attended Richmond High School, graduating in 1968, before barber college. He is survived by several siblings and a host of nieces and nephews.