Black History Month - A Tribute to Cultural Icons + Embracing Natural Hair
The history of Black hair care is a very profound topic that is undervalued when it comes to typical history lessons that you and I have been given throughout our childhood. Certain styles that were worn in different decades were due to the slave trade and European culture. It influences how we do our hair today making hair a momentous factor. The following strong, impactful trailblazers women that are mentioned below are some of the leading black hair activists as they pushed past society pressures of making African-American, African, Black, and Caribbean individuals think that wavey, curly, kinky, coily hair in its natural state is “nappy, messy, and disgusting” and even provided hair care products and educational tips to other Black on how to keep our hair in its natural state.
1867-1919 - Madam CJ Walker
The one and only - Sandra Breedlove or better known as the philanthropist, political and social activist, and American entrepreneur, Madam CJ Walker was considered to be the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and wealthiest self-made woman in America before passing away in 1919. She invented a line of hair products dedicated towards African Americans after experiencing scalp ailment that resulted in her suffering from hair loss. The dedicated Walker went across the country doing live hair demos and lectures and even went door to door selling and promoting her products. Later she ended up building a beauty school to teach others how to properly manage hair.
Annie Turnbo Malone - 1869-1957
Chemist and Entrepreneur, Annie Turnbo is another pioneer in the African American Beauty industry as she also became a millionaire by formulating and selling her own line of beauty products for hair types commonly found within African American hair. She established the Poro College, a cosmetology school dedicated to advancing Black women. Her college was also used for holding various civic functions. Poro College became a success and she expanded into 36 branches throughout the country. Being a millionaire, Malone always looked to give back to her community therefore the majority of her earnings went into charities.Quick fact is Madam CJ Walker was actually an employee of Annie who used to work in her salon.
Cicely Tyson - Actress
Cicely Makes history by wearing her hair in cornrows in the tv show East side/ West side.
The award winning film, television and stage actor, Cicely Tyson is another African American woman that has made a huge impact within the African American Beauty industry in the 1950’s and 1960’s. She shook the influence of how Black women wore their hair with the everyday look starting on her first live television show. Without consulting with the directors, she decided that she wanted to fully immerse herself in the role as she was supposed to represent and dealt with the emerging African therefore she decided to shave her hair off and have it in its natural state. Her bold move not only drew attention to herself but she also received many letters. “I received many letters all over the country. Telling me that I was affecting their business because their clients were having their hair cut off so that they could wear it like the girl on television.” Said Cicely in which she shared with us on Oprah Master’s Class. This was the beginning of the natural hair movement as a growing amount of African American decided that they didn’t want to use relaxers anymore. In addition to her many roles she also normalized cornrows on entertainment television in the show “East Side / West Side.
Melba Tolliver - Broadcaster for WABC
In the summer of 1971, this superwoman Malba Tolliver ,broadcaster for WABC television, showed up to her job at WABC one day in her natural hair and after refusing to wear her hair straight. After hours of heated discussion from WABC’s Network executives telling her that her wearing her hair in its natural state is unappropriate and that she was not to appear live in the studio unless she changed her hair back to having it bone-straight. “ They said I looked less attractive—less feminine. But it was their standard of femininity, not mine.” Said Melba Tolliver(New york time article) “Being a woman in a field dominated by men, she said, has presented less of a problem than being black.” “When all of that happened with
my hair, there wouldn't have been a problem if there had been a black in authority at the station. That's why it's important to have blacks behind the scenes, not just someone in front of the camera who doesn't murder the English language. Those executives had no idea what it meant to me to wear my hair natural or what a stigma it had been for black women in the past to have kinky hair. They interpret news about blacks and minorities through their own perspective, as if no other perspective exists.” Due to another article released by the New York Times,explaining why Melba wasn’t on air, people became disgusted at the situation thus WABC decided to allow her to be back on live television making her the first black woman broadcaster to wear her hair in its natural state.
American model Pat Evans started a hair movement in 1966 that shocked. Evans shaved her hair bald because of the expectation that models must have long hair. Being a model who has curly, kinky hair she had to continuously straighten it. One day Evans was just tired of having to straighten it which led her to cut it all off. This courageous and strong move allowed women to be seen as “Beauty is more than long hair”. Her bold move landed her many opportunities such as a featuring in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and becoming the face of cosmetic brand Astarté.
Davis became a popular icon by her courageous bravery. She wore her hair in a large afro at most times which she became recognizable from. By Davis wearing her hair in such a style that was frowned upon influenced some of society to change their views on black hair. Also her afro became the main symbol for Black Power.Activist, scholar, Writer, Angela Davis played a key role in the Black Power movement as a civil activist. She is also well known for being part of the Black Panther Club and the Che-Lumumba Club. Also for being a strong supporter for the Soledad Brothers.
There have been so many cultural icons and social activists over the decades that have shaped the way society and black men and women view our natural hair. We salute them and acknowledge their contributions as we continue to learn about, and embrace our natural kinks, coils and curls.