Black History Month, Part 5: The Afro

This look was made iconic by popular figures such as civil right activist Angela Davis, entertainers Nina Simone and Jimi Hendrix, and actors such as Pam Grier and Cicely Tyson.  The Afro gained popularity in the early 1960’s on college campuses by young adults who studied their own history and developed a nationalist point of view in order to reconnect with their African heritage.  With the help of movies such as Foxy Brown, and Shaft, TV shows such as Good Times and The Jeffersons, and musical groups such as The Jackson 5, the Afro grew in popularity from the dorm rooms to the masses.

According to my own mother, who rocked a “curly fro,” you can achieve the look by braiding your hair at night, then taking the braids out in the morning while you shape it out with an Afro pick.  She would also cover her head with a silk scarf tied at the back of the neck, to help give it the perfect round form.  Most African Americans can achieve the look with their natural texture; however, there are some African Americans who have finer hair.  Not to be left out, a way to “nap up” the hair was developed in the 60’s.  Those with straight hair could get a curly relaxer with perm rods in order to simulate the Afro.  Home remedies using beer, vinegar, and Borax cleaner were also created.  Another method involved cutting off all the chemically straightened hair then washing it with Octagon laundry soap!

The style of the afro began as a fashion statement but also as a representation of political and cultural pride.  In the 1960’s the Afro became a statement of Black power and a symbol of rebellion against the idea that curly hair is somehow less attractive than straight hair.  As political as it was personal, African hair had been systematically labeled as inferior throughout history.  For African Americans, reclaiming a sense of pride in one’s hair became a major factor in reclaiming one’s pride in oneself.  The Afro was the image that represented a movement towards a new aesthetic that embraced African art, literature, fashion, education, and politics.  The Afro was and is a celebration of African textured hair and the African American community.  Black is Beautiful!

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