A History of Black Hair From the 1400s to Present

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Via NaturallyCurly.com

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 NaturallyCurly.com

This is fascinating! Ladies, what are your thoughts?

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42 thoughts on “A History of Black Hair From the 1400s to Present

  1. 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.

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

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  3. 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.

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

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