Combing the history of black hair

Combing the history of black hair

By Karsten Ivey / South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Today the black hair product business is a billion-dollar industry, fueled by black women's desire to keep their tresses looking good. But hair in black America is not just about aesthetics. It's about self-esteem, identity, politics, economics, history and race.

Abbreviated TIMELINE

1444: Europeans trade on the West Coast of Africa with people wearing elaborate hairstyles, including locks, plaits and twists.


1619: First slaves brought to Jamestown; African language, culture and grooming tradition begin to disappear.


1700s: Calling black hair "wool," many whites dehumanize slaves. The more elaborate African hairstyles cannot be retained.


1800s: Without the combs and herbal treatments used in Africa, slaves rely on bacon grease, butter and kerosene as hair conditioners and cleaners. Lighter-skinned, straight-haired slaves command higher prices at auction than darker, more kinky-haired ones. Internalizing color consciousness, blacks promote the idea that blacks with dark skin and kinky hair are less attractive and worth less.


1865: Slavery ends, but whites look upon black women who style their hair like white women as well-adjusted. "Good" hair becomes a prerequisite for entering certain schools, churches, social groups and business networks.


1880: Metal hot combs, invented in 1845 by the French, are readily available in the United States. The comb is heated and used to press and temporarily straighten kinky hair.


1900s: Madame C.J. Walker develops a range of hair-care products for black hair. She popularizes the press-and-curl style. Some criticize her for encouraging black women to look white.


1910: Walker is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the first American female self-made millionaire.


1920s: Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist, urges followers to embrace their natural hair and reclaim an African aesthetic.


1954: George E. Johnson launches the Johnson Products Company with Ultra Wave Hair Culture, a "permanent" hair straightener for men that can be applied at home. A women's chemical straightener follows.


1963: Actress Cicely Tyson wears cornrows on the television drama "East Side/West Side."


1966: Model Pat Evans defies both black and white standards of beauty and shaves her head.


1968: Actress Diahann Carroll is the first black woman to star in a television network series, "Julia." She is a darker version of the all-American girl, with straightened, curled hair.


1970: Angela Davis becomes an icon of Black Power with her large Afro.


1971: Melba Tolliver is fired from the ABC affiliate in New York for wearing an Afro while covering Tricia Nixon's wedding.


1977: The Jheri curl explodes on the black hair scene. Billed as a curly perm for blacks, the ultra moist hairstyle lasts through the 1980s.


1979: Braids and beads cross the color line when Bo Derek appears with cornrows in the movie "10."


1980: Model-actress Grace Jones sports her trademark flattop fade.


1988: Spike Lee exposes the good hair/bad hair light-skinned/dark-skinned schism in black America in his movie "School Daze."


1990: "Sisters love the weave," Essence magazine declares. A variety of natural styles and locks also become more accepted.


1997: Singer Erykah Badu poses on the cover of her debut album "Baduizm" with her head wrapped, ushering in an eclectic brand of Afrocentrism.


1998: Carson Inc., creator of Dark & Lovely and Magic Shave for black men, acquires black-owned beauty company Johnson Products of Chicago in 1998. L'Oreal purchases Carson two years later and merges it with Soft Sheen.


1999: People magazine names lock-topped Grammy award-winning artist Lauryn Hill one of its 50 Most Beautiful People.


2001: Rapper Lil' Kim wears a platinum blonde weave, while singer Macy Gray sports a new-school Afro. Some black women perm, some press, others go with natural twists, braids and locks.


2006: Black hair care is a billion-dollar industry.



SOURCES: "Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America" by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps; Nicole Volta Avery, Detroit Free Press PHOTOS: Madame C.J. Walker, courtesy of Library of Congress; Knight Ridder; Viacom; file photos.



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10-12-2006, 09:44 AM

Excellent post....I think it is SOOOO important to know the history of black hair...I am reading a book now called

Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America and it goes into detail about a lot of things on my time line. It is very informative and helps you to understand the context that your thoughts about your hair have been placed in and how they developed over centuries.


I always read it while I am sitting under the dryer for my deep condition....conditioning my hair and educating my mind :grin:

Date: 18th June, 2013 Written by Super User Comment count: 0


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