Archive for the ‘hair’ Category

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919), an American businesswoman, was the first self-made Black American millionaire – and the first American woman too of any race according to the “Guinness Book of World Records”. She sold hair care products to black women, most notably the hot comb, which made straightened hair common among black women in the early 1900s.

She did not invent the hot comb. It had been invented in Paris in the 1800s at a time when Egyptian hairstyles were in fashion. Sears was already selling them to white women in America in the 1880s. But it was Walker who sold them to black women as an easy way to straighten their hair (though even she first used it to help hair grow rather than to straighten it).

She was born Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana, across the river from Vicksburg, two years after the slaves were freed. Times were hard: yellow fever killed her parents, the Klan burned down her school, by age ten she was working picking cotton, by age 20 her husband was dead and she had a baby girl to take care of (A’Lelia Walker, who later became a figure of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s).

She moved to St Louis where her brother lived and worked as a washerwoman. As little money as she made, she still saved some of it to give her daughter the education she never had.

Then her hair began falling out. She tried all kinds of hair care products to make her hair grow back, but none of them worked. Some of them even made it worse!

In 1904 at the St Louis world’s fair she saw Margaret Washington, the wife of Booker T. Washington. Her hair was so thick and healthy! She wanted hair just like that.

That night she prayed, asking God to stop her hair from falling out. Then she had a dream: she was in Africa and a man was showing her the things she needed to make something that would help her hair to grow back.

That is how she tells it. Some say she had a pharmacist tell her what was in the hair grower of Annie Malone, a forerunner of Walker’s. At the time Walker was selling Malone’s hair care products door to door. She later modelled her company on Malone’s. (Some say Malone was the first black millionaire.)

In any case she moved to Denver soon after her brother died to be near his family. She spent nights working on her hair growing formula until she got it right. It came out in 1905. She called it Wonderful Hair Grower. It proved to be such a hit that other products soon followed and she started hiring saleswomen, training them in the  use of her products.

The rest is history: in time she built a factory in Indianapolis and moved to Harlem.

Her name comes from her third husband, newspaperman Charles J. Walker, her husband at the time she went into business.

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Dreadlocks are a natural way of wearing your hair that was made world-famous by Bob Marley and the Rastafarians in Jamaica. Your hair forms into what looks like snakes – at least that is how Julius Caesar put it when he saw the Celts wearing them.

Not just the Rastafarians and the ancient Celts wore dreadlocks, but also Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, King Tut, Samson, John the Baptist, holy men in India, the Vikings, the Mau Mau in Kenya when they stood up to the British and many others.

Dreadlocks are the natural state of human hair. Not just African hair, but any kind of human hair. Before the invention of the brush and the comb everyone wore dreadlocks.

If you wash your hair but never comb it or brush it, your hair will naturally form dreadlocks. It will take about a year and they will probably not look so nice, but they will be dreadlocks all the same.

There are several ways – which I will not go into here – to get dreadlocks to form more quickly, like in three to six months. On top of that they will come out looking nicer.

You can go to the right hairdresser to get it done (after repeated visits) or, if you know what you are doing, you can do it yourself. During those three to six months while your dreadlocks form, you will probably have to cover your hair – or put up with people’s comments.

Rastafarians wear their hair that way because of what it says in the Bible in Leviticus 21:5:

They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.

For black men in America it is the only way they can wear their hair long and still be in fashion.

For black women the advantages of dreadlocks are considerable:

  • Once formed, dreadlocks are way less work than most other ways for a black woman to maintain her hair.
  • It is completely natural: no dangerous chemicals needed.
  • It is a way to show pride in being black.

Most black women, at least in America, either put dangerous chemicals in their hair to straighten it or they wear wigs or weaves – hair that is not naturally theirs. So dreadlocks are one way to wear one’s own hair in a natural way.

Some companies do not like you coming to work in dreadlocks, but most will accept them if they look nice.

You need a special kind of shampoo to wash dreadlocks. Most shampoos have stuff that will stay in your hair after you wash it. Combing and brushing will get rid of it, but with dreadlocks you never comb or brush, so it will just build up in your hair and cause trouble.

The reason dreadlocks get that grey look is because of the wax that is used to help form and maintain them. You can do it without the wax but it is harder.

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