In NaturAll Club News, we’re celebrating this Black History Month by honoring some of the most groundbreaking figures and moments in American black hair history. The hairstyles mentioned have a much deeper and richer history than we'll take time to explain in this short article, but we still want to celebrate the individuals who wore them proudly in a culture that saw their hair as different, unattractive, or unfeminine. We are also celebrating some of the most successful entrepreneurs who created and expanded the black hair care market. Today’s natural hair movement owes so much to their legacy.
Annie Turnbo Malone was born in 1869 and is credited with launching the black hair care industry at the turn of the 20th century. She created an entire line of hair and beauty products for black women. Denied access to product distribution channels as a black woman, she popularized her products by giving door-to-door demonstrations in St. Louis. She was a noted philanthropist and gave away most of her money to charity. Source.
Madam C.J. Walker (Sarah Breedlove) was born in 1867 in Louisiana. A former employee of Annie Turnbow Malone, Madam C.J. Walker invented her line of black hair care products in 1905, at a time when there weren’t any options for black hair on the market. Her business was wildly successful and she became America’s 1st self made female millionaire. She also popularized the press and curl style.
“I want the great masses of my people to take a greater pride in their personal appearance and to give their hair proper attention.” Source.
In 1963 Actress Cicely Tyson became the first African American star of a TV drama with her role in East Side/West Side, and wore cornrows on set. She won three Emmy Awards and one Tony Award throughout her acting career, and was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1977. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016. Source.
In 1966, Pat Evans became the first model (of any race) to shave her head, subverting an unquestioned standard of beauty for both black and white women and sending shockwaves through the modeling industry.
Angela Davis, civil rights activist, was one of many figures in the Black Power movement to sport a large Afro (1960s and 1970s) Source. Davis was involved with both the Black Panthers and Che-Lumumba Club, and today she is a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Melba Tolliver was one of the first black female broadcasters in the field, reporting and anchoring for ABC’s flagship station in New York in the 1960s. In 1971 she changed her hair from straight to natural, right before covering Tricia Nixon’s wedding. She was told she couldn’t return to the studio unless she reverted her hair from its “less attractive, less feminine” state. She refused to straighten her hair, and was eventually permitted to return and appear on air with her natural hair. Source.
In 1988, Spike Lee exposed and explored the good hair/bad hair schism in Black America in his movie School Daze. Source.
Janet Jackson appeared rocking long box braids in Poetic Justice in 1993, popularizing the versatile protective style that dates as far back as 3500 B.C.! Source.
Erykah Badu posed on the cover of her debut album “Baduizm” with a headwrap in 1997, celebrating her African heritage and contributing to the growing Afrocentrism movement. Source.
In 1999, People Magazine named Grammy award-winning artist Lauryn Hill one of its 50 Most Beautiful People, locs and all. Learn more about caring for your own locs in our guide!
Solange Knowles did the Big Chop in 2009, starting fresh with natural hair. By no means the first Black woman to do so, she brought a public audience to her natural hair choice and inspired many women to do the same.
In 2017, Muhga Eltigani became the first founder of a Black hair product company (NaturAll Club) to be honored for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Read more about Muhga's story!