What Is the History of African American Hair?

African American hair has a rich and complex history that spans centuries. The texture and style of African American hair have been a source of pride, prejudice, and cultural significance throughout history. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the history of African American hair.

The Origins of African American Hair

African American hair can be traced back to Africa, where the texture and style of hair varied based on geography and ethnicity. Historically, African hairstyles were not just for aesthetic purposes, but they also conveyed social status, age, religion, and tribe affiliation.

During the transatlantic slave trade from the 16th to the 19th century, enslaved Africans were forcibly brought to America. They were stripped of their culture, traditions, and even their hair. Enslaved Africans had their heads shaved as a way to dehumanize them and strip them of their identity.

The Emergence of Black Hair Care

After slavery was abolished in 1865, black people were free to grow out their hair and express themselves through hairstyles. However, discrimination still existed in society that limited opportunities for black people in education and employment based on hairstyle choices.

As a result, black entrepreneurs began to create products that catered specifically to black hair care needs. In the early 1900s, Madame C.J. Walker became one of the first self-made female millionaires through her hair care line Targeted towards black women.

The Civil Rights Movement & Natural Hair

The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s sparked a new era for natural hairstyles among African Americans. The Afro hairstyle became a symbol of resistance against systemic racism and cultural assimilation. Black activists such as Angela Davis wore Afros as an act of political expression.

However, wearing natural hairstyles was still seen as controversial in many workplaces and schools where Eurocentric beauty standards were still prevalent. Black people who wore natural hairstyles faced discrimination and even lost job opportunities.

The Evolution of African American Hair

Today, African American hair continues to evolve and serve as a form of self-expression. The natural hair movement has gained popularity in recent years, with more people embracing their natural curls and textures.

In addition, there has been a growing awareness of the importance of black hair care products that cater to the unique needs of black hair. This has led to a surge in black-owned hair care brands that provide quality products for black men and women.


The history of African American hair is a complex one that has evolved over centuries. From slavery to the Civil Rights Movement to present-day natural hairstyles, African American hair has been a form of cultural expression, resistance, and pride. Understanding this rich history can help us appreciate the beauty and significance of African American hair in our society today.