Whether it’s activist Ange­la Davis’s Afro or hip-hop diva Lil’ Kim’s “weave of the week,” black hair has long had the pow­er to set trends and reflect soci­etal atti­tudes.

Since Feb­ru­ary is Black His­to­ry Mon­th — a time to remem­ber impor­tant peo­ple and events that shaped the lives of African Americans—we thought it was an ide­al time to explore how hair­styles have been inter­wo­ven into that his­to­ry. It is a sto­ry that con­tin­ues to evolve. Here is a look back at some of the key events and peo­ple who shaped the black hair­sto­ry.

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.

Madame C.J. Walk­er

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 Empire with Ultra Wave Hair Cul­ture, a “per­ma­nent” hair straight­en­er for men that can be applied at home. A women’s chem­i­cal straight­en­er fol­lows.

Read the Rest at

This is fas­ci­nat­ing! Ladies, what are your thoughts?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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42 Comments on "A History of Black Hair From the 1400s to Present"

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hel­lo there and thank you for your info – I’ve cer­tain­ly picked up some­thing new from right here.
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much more of your respec­tive fas­ci­nat­ing con­tent. Make
sure you update this again soon.


Sor­ry but i have to cor­rect some­thing in your post.
Slav­ery was first estab­lished in Flori­da by the Span­ish in 1565.
Dates are VERY impor­tant, because they are keys in unlock­ing who we real­ly are.




I like the thought of my hair being com­pared to wool, because my hea­van­ly father hair is desrcibed as wool.

gia kirby

pls put on mail list. chris rock movie moved me.


All I need to say is, if God saw that it was nec­es­sary to straight­en our hair, He would have. We were tru­ly and unique­ly cre­at­ed in His image. That is what makes us spe­cial and stand out from the rest, because we are dif­fer­ent. I just thank God I’ve come to real­iza­tion that I can be at peace with myself, by accept­ing what true beau­ty is and that is by being the real me.


I also find it inter­est­ing that John­son cre­at­ed a hair-straight­en­ing pro­duct for MEN, first and the women’s pro­duct came after.

Kimsuccess M.

Great arti­cle writen for “Black His­to­ry” mon­th! For those that feel the arti­cle did not cov­er enough, I would love to read your sum­ma­ry of African (and oth­er coun­tries) His­to­ry that cov­ers the gaps. Don’t just critize, fill in the gaps and edu­cate us all! I am inter­est­ed. This is what Feb­ru­ary is about.

I won’t go into too much detail b/c the last few posts touch on some of my views about the post. Even though I respect the inten­tion behind the arti­cle & the desire to inform, there are seri­ous errors as men­tioned in pre­vi­ous com­ments. When talk­ing about the dis­ap­pear­ance of “African lan­guage, cul­ture & tra­di­tion”, you fail to add the plu­ral & acknowl­edge that there are MANY dif­fer­ent, lan­guages, cul­tures & tra­di­tions of Africans. Gen­er­al­ly, the his­to­ry in this arti­cle isn’t rep­re­sen­ta­tive at all. I’m not imply­ing that this arti­cle should have gone into a lot of detail but if the… Read more »
Ok, so I will try to phrase my thoughts in a mild and mea­sured man­ner. This arti­cle is ridicu­lous. It is poor­ly word­ed. Or per­haps, it is word­ed to prop­er­ly express the sen­ti­ments of the own­ers of Nat­u­ral­ly­Curly. This is pre­cise­ly the sort of super gen­er­al, non-speci­fic, redun­dant filler that “Black His­to­ry Mon­th” is crit­i­cized (and known!) for! I mean, what did this teach any­one who has entered and exit­ed the 6th grade? And, the arti­cle begins with “Euro­peans” gaz­ing at Africans. Oh, the sub­ject look­ing at the object, great! And, then “African cul­ture, tra­di­tion and groom­ing prac­tice dis­ap­pear” in… Read more »

I guess I am the only one that is a lit­tle upset by this arti­cle. The infor­ma­tion is fine, but why does the his­to­ry of black hair start when Euro­peans entered the slave trade. As if we didn’t exist before then. Or if we did, we weren’t wor­thy of being men­tioned until the Euro­peans found some type of val­ue in us. May­be I’m just jad­ed, but I’m feel­ing some type of way about that.


No, I agree. I feel the exact same way.


No. This arti­cle is absolute­ly ridicu­lous.

Jo Somebody

Agreed! I also think the title should be a his­to­ry of African Amer­i­can hair. Very few of the facts affect­ed me or my par­ents (and cer­tain­ly not my grand­par­ents) or relate to me at all. This is a very speci­fic his­to­ry and is a fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry, but even as a Black per­son, it is not my his­to­ry.


This arti­cle is very U.S.-centric and isn’t very sub­stan­tive but did pique my inter­est a bit. I will take anoth­er commenter’s advice and look for the book “Hair Sto­ry: Untan­gling the Roots of Hair in Black Amer­i­ca” by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps. I’d be very inter­est­ed in learn­ing about black hair prac­tices in Africa, Papua New Guinea and the African dias­po­ra.

Dominika Shelton

idk ‘enslaved’ seems sweet­er, like there is a chance of get­ting out, break­ing out, when that was not the real­i­ty. ‘slaves’ meant that there was not even a chance of being free, not even a thought of being free,not even a dream of being free. this was the men­tal­i­ty black peo­ple were fed dur­ing this time, and there aint noth­ing ‘sweet’ about that. being enslaved is a phys­i­cal thing, being a ‘slave’ is a men­tal thing . say­ing ‘enslaved’ would be degrad­ing the riv­et­ing real­i­ty of the African Dias­po­ra.


Inter­est­ing read. I quite enjoyed it.


I enjoyed this immense­ly! I love BGLH. Your arti­cles are so infor­ma­tive and intel­li­gent­ly writ­ten. Thank you for all that you do to encour­age Black girls young and old.

Israel Investigations

Admir­ing the com­mit­ment you put into your web­site and inter­est­ing insight you offer here. It’s very good to come across a blog occa­sion­al­ly that is not all the same out of date rehashed mate­ri­al. Excel­lent work! I’ve book­marked your site and I’m adding your RSS feed to my Favorites now. In fact, I admire your site so much that I would like to adver­tise my own site on yours. Please write me at: every­thin­grain­bowhk (AT) spec­i­fy­ing your month­ly ad prices. Look­ing for­ward to your email!

Love this post. If any­one is inter­est­ed to get a full his­to­ry on black hair pick up the book “Hair Sto­ry: Untan­gling the Roots of Hair in Black Amer­i­ca” by Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps. One of the best pur­chas­es I have ever made. The book points out that Madame CJ Walk­er cre­at­ed her busi­ness because many black wom­en didn’t feel beau­ti­ful about their phys­i­cal appear­ance and she want­ed black wom­en to be proud of their appear­ance. She actu­al­ly went to door-to-door ala Avon to sell her prod­ucts. Even though I am not hap­py that feel­ing beau­ti­ful at the time… Read more »

Thanks for the info. I will def­i­nite­ly see if my library has it to read.


Loved this post. I learned some things I didn’t know


Great post, short and to the point. I nev­er had any rev­er­ence for Madame CJ Walk­er. Not all busi­ness is good busi­ness but in a era like that, I couldn’t pos­si­bly imag­ine the mind­set of our race and what they had to endure in regards to what was phys­i­cal beau­ty. I guess she did what she had to do. 

We need to teach our daugh­ters young about the his­to­ry of our hair and how to man­age it, so they can grow up proud.


The whole arti­cle is great ! I’m shocked to see that a lit­tle girl was about to be out of a bal­let because of her hair O_o some peo­ple are too rigid…


Very inter­est­ing post!


Very inter­est­ing… @Relo, that’s a pret­ty col­or in your hair.


@Alisha thank you very much.


I love this post! This is very refresh­ing to read dur­ing my lunch hour. Thanks!


Most EXCELLENT post!


I’d prefer the term ‘enslaved’ over slave which is dehu­man­iz­ing and implies a nat­u­ral con­di­tion rather than an invol­un­tary and imposed con­di­tion.

.. And exact­ly what stae are you in now. enslave­ment meant a chance of escapism. “she was enslaved in her work” “she was a slave to her work” “she was a slave”. Have a guess of which we were and are. When a mas­sive gang of wolves bind­ed in men­tal­i­ty, out­come, exe­cu­tion and syn­chro­ni­sa­tion wants to prounce on a lion, before the lion is in their mouth, the lion is a prey. Doesn’t mat­ter how strong the lion is, to the wolves, it is a prey unless they wouldn’t both­er attack­ing. In fact, let’s say ants. Now, mind you I used… Read more »

+1000 =)








girls with their long hair are just too love­ly. i try keep mine as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble.:)
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R Kahendi

I for­got to ask which nation the wom­an in the pic­ture was from.

R Kahendi

A tru­ly fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry! I hadn’t real­ized that peo­ple crit­i­cized CJ Walk­er back then. Would you hap­pen to know who her strongest crit­ics were?

I had to chuck­le to myself at the fact that she became a mil­lion­aire, pre­sum­ably sell­ing the hair-straight­en­ing prod­ucts. I guess she was a shrewd busi­ness­wom­an.


Book­er T. Wash­ing­ton was one of her biggest crit­ics, as well as those African Amer­i­cans who believed that Blacks straight­ened their name to emu­late Whites. Walk­er nev­er con­sid­ered her­self a “hair straight­en­er” she stat­ed that she want­ed to make Black wom­en feel beau­ty and be pam­pered. Clear­ly, the irony being that “beau­ty” was tan­ta­mount to one’s hair being straight.


Two words I would like to elab­o­rate on:

1) pam­pered — there is noth­ing about relax­ing my hair that I remem­ber which allowed me to feel pam­pered. lol. What I do remem­ber is grip­ping on the arms of the chair, clench­ing my teeth, pray­ing to endure the pain.…just so I could feel (2) beau­ti­ful at the end of the hor­ri­ble process we call relax­ing our hair. I also remem­ber being annoyed because my hair grew so fast that it seemed as though I was always in need of a touch up. 

so hap­py to be nat­u­ral. I will nev­er go through it again.

Madame CJ Walk­er didn’t sell hair relaxers–mostly men mixed the conk at the bar­ber­shops then. She sold hot combs (press-n-curl is her trade­mark), sham­poos, con­di­tion­ers, brush­es, and hair pomades. Many black wom­en didn’t used to wash their hair often or at all back then and had prob­lems with their hair falling out and scabs on their scalp. They were used to wear­ing head­scarves all the time from slavery/sharecropping and did­nt know what to do with their hair when they were allowed not to wear them.  The knowl­edge of how to do our hair was lost in slav­ery. Madame CJ Walk­er cre­at­ed… Read more »

I remem­ber hav­ing tears in my eyes because my scalp burned so bad and the scabs. I didn’t feel pam­pered and relaxed either– I just felt like it was the price that I had to pay to look “good” with straight hair. Now I know bet­ter even though it took years for me to tru­ly accept my hair the way that it was with­out mak­ing it fall out with the way that I was treat­ing it. Nat­u­ral just makes sense for me now.