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Chapter One: A Brief History
Initially I intended to spend a lot of time studying the history of our hair from Africa to America today. Thankfully it has been done very well. In my research I found a book written by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps entitled: Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America.” I found this book to be very educational. The following time line is based on information that was found in it. I will make a few comments about specific issues; but if you want to know more, read their book.
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 traditions 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 auctions than darker, more kinky-haired ones. Internalizing color consciousness, blacks promote the idea that blacks with dark skin and kinky hairs 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. Considered by some as the best way to have “good” hair.
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.
1984: Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire, some blame Jheri curl.
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 from Johnson’s ex-wife. 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.