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Whether it's activist Angela Davis's Afro or rap barbie Nicki Minaj's weekly wig changeout, 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 hair story.

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.

Madame C.J. Walker

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

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This article is great. I love the history and that "Good Hair" is included in the timeline because that movie is great. I have had to face a lot of curiousity and confusion about my race and my ethnicity because of my hair, enough that I often identify with the history of the black hair struggle even though I don't consider myself black(I don't consider myself white or hispanic either so I'm just a mystery to people). I have often worried how my hair would be perceieved in a job interview or on a date or going out. Great timeline!
Thanks for this article. The issues around black hair are myriad and complex. Why should black women have to change their perfectly beautiful hair to fit a norm that is ridiculous and racist? The sad thing is that black women have believed this nonsense when they would not accept being told to bleach their skin or change their lips! The more women who wear their hair as it is, the more accepting society will have to become. Natural hair is professional and beautiful and only a "statement" because society makes it one. Curly, like m bi-racial hair, or cottony like my kinky haired sisters, it's all beautiful.
great cliffnotes version of our hair journey and a great article. thanks so much for posting!
I love this article. It really helped me with learning about how African Americans started to hate their natural hair and change the look of their hair to look like White Americans hair. All of my life, I have always worn my hair pressed, or relaxed out of fear that I would be called names like nappy head and I always had more confidence when it was time for me to get my hair relaxed because I knew that the straighter my hair was the more I would be liked by my family and friends at school because I always got compliments about how my hair is soo pretty whenever I got my hair pressd or relaxed. Well, with a relaxer I have never grown my hair passed shoulder length due to the harsh chemicals, so this pass year I decided to grow out my natural hair to embrace my culture and to finally grow long and natural hair. All of the natural hair blogs like this one has really inspired me to. I also decided to do the same thing with my daughter's hair. She is 12 years old and when she first started to grow her hair out she got a lot of negative comments at school, like why you won't put a relaxer in your hair your hair stinks and a friend of hers offered to flat iron her hair for her. I felt really bad for my daughter and I told her that her hair is beautiful and not to worry about what other people say about her, but after months of seeing how sad she was at school by her new hairstyle change, I decided to put a relaxer back in her hair. She is happy with my decision and so am I for the time being because she is to young to deal with all the negative comments. When she is a lot older, she will try to grow out her natural hair again, but for now she likes her hair relaxed. I will continue to model my love for my natural hair to her and one day my daughter will also embrace her natural hair. Until then,I will be glad when African American natural hair is accepted by the media as beautiful hair. I know that it is beautiful or my creator would not have blessed me with this kind of hair, but with all the negative comments that people get from wearing their natural hair it is the reason why most people feel that they have to wear their hair like someone else to be accepted in this world by friends boyfriends, husbands, children and family.
:D
Excellent article, I am so glad to see that people are now more accepting of their natural hair. I am bi-racial and I have large curley hair and I use to perm it and it would damage my hair, Its been 5 years since I re-grew my hair and I wear it out big and curley, it's who I am and I am proud of the way God made it. I pray that many women of all colors become accepting of who they are and if they want to perm their hair, thats ok too.
This is so great. Thank you so much for posting this! There are so many people out there who don't understand why black people have so many hair issues and how it differs from the issues all curlies have. Being bi-racial, I grew up being told that I had bad hair by Hispanic friends and that I had pubic hair by white kids in school. My mom put a relaxer in my hair at 13, and around then black girls would say that I had good hair, because it was "softer" and would grow long. I didn't like the chemicals and how unhealthy my hair began to look after six years, so I shaved my head. Went bald for three years and then began to grow it in. I've now been natural now for over 15 years. In that time, I was told that my hair was inappropriate for the office. My hair was has always been a concern when preparing for job interviews since its been made clear that my natural hair could label me as an unworthy employee. Learning to love my hair in this world that outright deemed me ugly or unprofessional was very hard. This history breakdown gives a few factual/tangible examples of what black women have had to deal with over the years and where it originated. It's really great to see that people are finally starting to address these issues. It would be great if little girls could grow up just loving who they are and not have the same experiences that I, and many other black women, did.

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