Black Hair Care: A 20th Century Concept

As a black woman, I would never try to speak for all black women, except in this case. Our hair and the maintenance of it is vital to us living our best lives. We wouldn’t have been able to have had the hair revolution we experienced since the early 20th century and we wouldn’t have been able to inspire millions of women all around the world with our hairstyles without the legacies of Annie Turnbo Malone and Madame CJ Walker.

Before the invention of black hair care products by these groundbreaking black pioneers, there wasn’t much of anything resembling the words care and products for our types of hair. Annie Malone was a student of chemistry and was fascinated by hair care. She developed her own line of special oils, hair stimulants and non-damaging hair straighteners for African-American hair, manufactured them door-to-door, and later in shops when the business expanded across the country, with help from trained selling agents, the most well known and being Madame CJ Walker.

Walker went on to start her own business selling hair care products for African-American hair and both women went on to become self-made millionaires. Both women are also known for their philanthropy and activism, making huge contributions to the YMCA, the Tuskegee Institute, The Howard University College of Medicine, among many other prominent charities and institutions.

Both women trained and employed thousands of employees, providing financial and career opportunities for African-Americans. Malone started Poro College, named after her business, which included a manufacturing plant, a retail store selling her products, a gym, rooftop garden, a 500-seat auditorium, dining room, and a chapel. Walker became involved in New York politics, speaking at various conventions and joining the executive committee of the NAACP’s New York chapter.

The African-American hair care industry as it stands today makes billions of dollars annually. These women not only invented and marketed a product for their community, but they revolutionized the hair care industry and made education and social justice a huge part of their legacies. This country was not built for black women. It was built on the backs of black women, and the least we can do is highlight who they are and honor them for their work.