In the rise of natural hairstyles, the Afro aka ‘Natural’ fashionably called, ‘Curly Fro’, ‘TWA’ (teenie-weenie-afro) and ‘Puff’ has made a comeback. Today, there are several singers and entertainers who sport Afros such as Angie Stone, Jill Scott, Algebra Blessett and my personal favorite, although not in the spotlight as of late, Lauryn Hill. I remember searching the bookstore and grocery store magazine racks for pictures of a closer look at Ms. Hill’s ‘knot-out’ fro right after The Fugees, The Score was released in 1996.
We’ve seen Afros worn by models and other celebrities such as, Hayley Marie, Tomiko Fraser, Marsha Hunt, Abang Othow and Wakeema Hollis. Erykah Badu – sports a gigantic Afro in Tom Ford’s White Patchouli campaign ads. Although today, for some it may be just a fashion statement, or simple, easy-to-do hairstyle, it wasn’t too long ago when a women wearing an Afro was looked upon as a rebel, militant feminist and a revolutionary.
The Civil Right’s Movement in the 1960s and early 1970s, gave birth to The Black Power Movement, which emphasized racial pride. Through this movement, the creation of black political and cultural institutions began to flourish focusing on promoting and advancing black collective interests, values and culture. For many during this era, wearing an Afro, represented freedom from white oppression.
The movement primarily responsible for the Afro’s popularity is the “Black is Beautiful” movement. The “Black is Beautiful” movement encouraged blacks to feel good about how they looked, and attempted to undue the notion that their natural traits were ugly. It encouraged black women and men to embrace their natural features, by stop straightening their hair, and attempting to lighten or bleach their skin. One of the most famous Afro wearing women of this era is Angela Davis. She gained nationwide notoriety when a weapon registered in her name was linked to the murder of Judge Harold Haley.
In an interview with Black Power, this former Black Panther, who was arrested in 1970 at the age of 26 and then acquitted in one of the most famous trials in US History, stated, “Please don’t ask about my hair. I just don’t get the fascination.” She goes on to say that she was no different from any other woman in the ’70s.
“ I was one of thousands, millions of women who wore afros at that time … It is both humiliating and humbling that I am remembered as a hairdo,” she added.
Although when we think of Ms. Davis an image of her with a huge Afro and fist in the air comes to mind, in this instance, her Afro is not just a hairstyle, but a symbol of justice, equality, liberation and black pride. Angela Davis a member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, has written several books, and still works toward racial, gender equality, gay rights and prison abolition.
Actress Cicely Tyson, is noted for first wearing an Afro on national television. Before becoming an actress, Cicely Tyson went from secretary, hairstyle model to fashion model, hitting the cover of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. In 1959, she landed a TV role on the Sunday morning series Camera Three, and had her hair cut into television’s first Afro. People magazine reported that she waited to the last minute to cut her hair since the show was live so they would not fire her. Cicely Tyson won an Oscar nomination for Sounder and an Emmy for The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, and still graces us with her presence on the big screen today.
Pam Grier is another actress known for sporting an Afro. This beauty pageant first runner-up turned actress is known for wearing her Afro in early 70s roles in prison and “blaxploitation films” such as Coffy (where she hid razorblades in her Afro), and the unforgettable ‘baddest chic’ herself, super-heroine Foxy Brown. Pam Grier is noted as one of the first African-American actresses to headline a film as a protagonist. From those early roles she has since achieved high acclaim as the lead in Jackie Brown, and her award winning role as Kate ‘Kit’ Porter on the L Word.
All of these women, Angela Davis, Cicely Tyson and Pam Grier gave new meaning to the act of wearing an Afro, taking it far beyond just a hairstyle and in turn classifying it as a symbol of black beauty, feminism, liberation and cultural revolution, that will be looked upon as such for years to come.