December 15, 2017 - Vol. 1, Issue 14
Black Hair is Beautiful:
African American Hair Politics 10
1975 advertisement for Royal Shield natural hair products 11
Wantu Wazuri Afro Sheen campaign for Johnson Products Company 12
T'Keyah Crystal Keymah
George Johnson
Bernice Johnson Reagon
Corynne Corbett
In her interview with The HistoryMakers, actress T’Keyah Crystal Keymah recalls a time when she was forced to straighten her hair in order to conform to white beauty standards: “Like most of the black girls of my generation, I sat at the stove and hot comb and getting my ear burned and my hair burnt. And I thought, that’s what was supposed to happen, and I thought that was my avenue to beauty and acceptability, because God forbid I should try to take a picture with nappy hair. That was not allowed. There are no pictures of me with nappy hair as a child. You would think my hair was straight, because the day before picture day, day before a funeral, day before a wedding: our hair was pressed hard. And like all the other black girls, I grew up thinking that whatever it is I am, it’s got to be the opposite of pretty, ‘cause I don’t get pretty until my hair gets straight. And I don’t remember when it started bothering me. It wasn’t when my brother would make fun of us – ‘I smell it burning. You’re burning it up, baby’” 1 [T’Keyah Crystal Keymah, THMDA 3.12.4] . Her experience, which was shared by many black women who grew up in the mid twentieth century, later inspired her book, Natural Woman/Natural Hair: A Hair Journey .

In Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975 , Susannah Walker states: “African American hair has historically symbolized and continues to reflect struggles over race and gender in the United States…it is revealed by the fact that, forty years after Stokely Carmichael declared that, ‘black is beautiful,’ the phrases ‘good hair’ and ‘bad hair’ still have meaning for African Americans.” 2 The concept of good hair/bad hair has informed the African American experience since the transatlantic slave trade. In Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America, Ayana Byrd and Lori Tharps note: “In this new land dominated by pale skin and straight hair, African hair was deemed wholly unattractive and inferior by the Europeans. Many white people went so far as to insist that blacks did not have real hair, preferring to classify it in a derogatory manner as ‘wool.’” Furthermore, “white slave owners sought to pathologize African features like dark skin and kinky hair to further demoralize the slaves, especially the women. Aided by the scientific community, which had officially relegated dark-skinned, ‘woolly’-haired people to the bottom of the evolutionary ladder, the slave owners’ brainwashing took root.” 3

Erin Kenny and Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols talk about the idealized practice of hair straightening in Beauty Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia , stating: “Overwhelmingly, beauty standards in the United States were based on white women’s features until the early 1960s. With a few notable exceptions, few black women were celebrated at a national level for their beauty. Black women were encouraged to straighten their naturally curly hair using a variety of processing and heat options in order for it to appear more like white women’s hair.” 4 Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu concurs in Writing African American Women: A-J that “African American women’s hair has unfortunately been the most affected victim of white beauty standards. White biases about black women’s hair reinforce Western perceptions that only straight silky hair is beautiful. Hair straightening products that are rigorously marketed to African American women strongly reinforce the belief that African American hair cannot be beautiful unless it looks white.” 5

Curator and musical composer Bernice Johnson Reagon remembers her own departure from Eurocentric beauty standards: “You're born, when you're young, you don't put the hot comb in the baby's hair until the child is old enough. And it was a ritual of passage. You get to a certain age, then you get your hair straightened for the first time. And then you still don't get it done for school. You get it done for Easter or big days at church. You get a hot comb, and you go across the street. And they put curlers in. This is like maybe twice a year. You cannot wait until you get to be a teenager and your hair is straight all of the time. And somebody says, who's not a part of this culture, ‘Why do you do it?’ And I had no idea. And I guess, looking back, it had something to do with the power of culture. You're born into a culture, and you move along the road that is structured for you. And you usually do not question, you aspire to take on all of the symbols so everybody will know, ‘I am here now.’ And so Civil Rights Movement is when I started to question and make my own decisions” 6 [Bernice Johnson Reagon, THMDA 1.5.4].

Following the advent of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Walker states , “For many, natural hair represented an abandonment of commodified beauty culture as much as it expressed a rejection of a white aesthetic. This position paralleled critiques of American capitalism coming from the Black Power movement.” 7 Personal care executive George Johnson recalls how the shift in appreciation of a more natural black hair aesthetic inspired his Afro Sheen product line: “The whole idea was a threat to Johnson Products Company. We were heavily invested in relaxers. We were heavily invested with the hair straightener. Ultra Wave was the fastest selling product out there. And when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. started saying black is beautiful and be yourself, people started cutting off their relaxer and their processes, and I had to switch gears real fast. We shifted into what would serve the natural, because that's what they called it. You need some shampoo, you need a hairspray, you need a very light hairdressing, and we had that. We didn't have the hairspray, we created that. But we already had the other things that we just modified and put under that brand, Afro Sheen” 8 [George Johnson, THMDA 1.6.9].

Hair for African American women is still a contested, politicized arena, but one that now shifts towards recognition and inclusivity. Beauty and style magazine editor Corynne Corbett states of the acknowledgement of hairstyle diversity: “I think that the beauty space since 1985 has changed dramatically. Everybody knows that they need to talk to all women. Some do it more successfully than others. And creating product that works for everybody--everyone’s embracing the natural hair movement. And there’s a movement from relaxers, but the recognition has to be that they’re both important. And that the shift is that black hair is more in depth; you can’t write it away in a line or one tip in a general market magazine ‘cause there’s more to it than that” 9 [Corynne Corbett, THMDA 1.9.5].

"Help Everybody"
The HistoryMakers Remembers Simeon Booker 13

December 10, 2017 marked the passing of Simeon Booker , a legendary journalist who brought the murder of Emmett Till to the forefront of the nation’s mind. Booker first became interested in journalism through a family friend, Carl Murphy, the owner and operator of Baltimore's The Afro American Newspapers. He worked at the Afro American in Baltimore, the Call and Post in Cleveland, and in 1951 became the first full-time African American reporter at The Washington Post.

Booker joined Jet magazine in 1954 and in the following year, helped redefine the role of Jet and the entire Civil Rights Movement with his famous coverage of the Emmett Till murder and trial. Booker’s in-depth coverage turned the all too familiar event of lynching into a national tragedy that united the black community. Booker remained on the dangerous front lines of the Civil Rights Movement, reporting on the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 and riding with the Freedom Riders through the Deep South in 1961. When the buses were fire bombed in Anniston, Alabama, Booker arranged the Freedom Riders’ evacuation with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. For his journalist integrity and bravery, in 1982, Booker received the National Press Club’s Fourth Estate Award, one of the most prestigious awards in journalism. He covered every presidential election since the Eisenhower administration in his fifty-three years with Johnson Publishing, until his retirement in 2007. In 2013, he was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists' Hall of Fame, and received the George Polk Award for a lifetime of achievements in journalism.

When descri bing how he would like to be remembered for his HistoryMakers' interview in 2007, Booker stated, " I lived my life...I never regretted it. H elp everybody, that’s been my motto, help others. And every week at Jet in my column, I took a pride in saying, help somebody in this column. Say something nice about somebody, encourage some kid, open some job opportunity for somebody, do something to help somebody. Make this country greater" 14 [Simeon Booker, THMDA 1.4.9].
This week, 17 new interviews were added to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive:
Rosalind Ashford Holmes

Motown singer and motown singer Rosalind Ashford Holmes (1943 - ) was a member of Martha and the Vandellas, famous for singles like “Dancing in the Street” and “Nowhere to Run.” In 1995, she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Larry Dodson

Singer Larry Dodson (1951 - ) sang with the hit soul group The Bar-Kays, and co-founded Right Now Records label.
Herman "Skip" Mason

Archivist Herman "Skip" Mason (1962 - ) served as the 33rd general president of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and the college archivist at Morris Brown College and Morehouse College.
Harrison B. Wilson

University president and college basketball coach Harrison B. Wilson (1925 - ) was president of Norfolk State University in Virginia. He was also on the board of directors of Virginia National Bank.

Ed Spriggs

Art professor and curator Ed Spriggs (1934 - ) was the director of the Studio Museum in Harlem and the executive director of the Hammonds House Museum in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Honorable George Forbes

Lawyer and city council member The Honorable George Forbes (1931 - ) was the first African American elected as president of the Cleveland City Council and a founding partner of Rogers, Hornton & Forbes, the first African American law firm in Cleveland, Ohio and the largest minority-owned law firm in the State of Ohio.
The Honorable Carl Snowden

Civil rights activist and city government official The Honorable Carl Snowden (1953 - ) was the director of the civil rights division in the Maryland Attorney General's Office and served as a city councilman of Annapolis, Maryland.
The Honorable Toni Preckwinkle

County commissioner The Honorable Toni Preckwinkle (1947 - ) served as a Chicago City alderman for nineteen years before becoming the first woman to serve as president of the Cook County Board.
Richard Clayter

Trial lawyer Richard Clayter (1922 - 2013 ) was the first African American to complete the Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s part-time program. He also argued successfully for the integration of Chicago's Oak Woods Cemetery.
Walter Douglas

Auto sales entrepreneur and nonprofit chief executive Walter Douglas (1933 - ) was owner of Avis Ford in suburban Detroit. He previously served as president of the nonprofit New Detroit, Inc.
Patricia Russell-McCloud

Motivational speaker and lawyer Patricia Russell-McCloud (1946 - ) was a Federal Communications Commission attorney, the president of The Links, Inc. and a motivational speaker.

Marian Cullers

Advertising executive Marian Cullers (? - ) was co-founder of Vince Cullers Advertising Agency, the first black advertising agency in the United States.

Willie Pearson

Sociologist and sociology professor Willie Pearson, Jr. (1945 - ) was a sociologist whose research centered on the U.S. scientific and engineering workforce and increasing the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering.

Maxine Smith

Executive secretary, foreign languages professor, civil rights activist, and state government employee Maxine Smith (1929 - 2013 ) was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, Tennessee, where she served on the school board for twenty-four years.
Ron Adams

Printmaker and graphic designer Ron Adams (1934 - ) worked as a fine art printmaker at the Gemini G.E.L. studio, where he printed the works of artists like Robert Rauschenberg. He also created his own lithographic prints and collaborated with John T. Biggers and Charles Wilbert White.
Theaster Gates

Visual artist and urban planner Theaster Gates (1973 - ) was the director of Arts and Public Life at the University of Chicago and founded the Dorchester Projects and The Rebuild Foundation. He has exhibited his artwork and performed at numerous cultural institutions.

Lee Ransaw

Fine artist and art professor Lee Ransaw (1938 - ) was the dean of arts and letters and chair of the fine arts department at Morris Brown College and founder of The National Alliance of Artists from Historically Black Colleges.
1.     T'Keyah Crystal Keymah (The HistoryMakers A2004.194), interviewed by Larry Crowe, February 23, 2005, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 3, tape 12, story 4, T'Keyah Crystal Keymah talks about her book, "Natural Woman/Natural Hair: A Hair Journey"
2.     Susannah Walker, Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975. University Press of Kentucky, February 23, 2007.
3.     Ayana Byrd, Lori Tharps, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. St. Martin’s Press, April 14, 2014.
4.     Erin Kenny, Elizabeth Gackstetter Nichols, Beauty Around the World: A Cultural Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO, June 22, 2017.
5.     Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu, Writing African American Women: A-J. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006.
6.     Bernice Johnson Reagon (The HistoryMakers A2003.231), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 22, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 4, Bernice Reagon remembers learning that Black is Beautiful (part 1)
7.     Susannah Walker, Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975. University Press of Kentucky, February 23, 2007.
8.     George Johnson (The HistoryMakers A2003.303), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, December 18, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 6, story 9, George Johnson discusses the product Afro Sheen
9.     Corynne Corbett (The HistoryMakers A2013.302), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, November 13, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 9, story 5, Corynne Corbett talks about the change in fashion and beauty media over the past thirty years
10. BANNER PHOTO: Afro Sheen ad, can be found:
12.  Wantu Wazuri Afro Sheen campaign, Johnson Products Company. Can be found:
14. Simeon Booker (The HistoryMakers A2007.223), interviewed by Paul Brock, August 1, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 9, Simeon Booker describes how he would like to be remembered

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