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While touring on the lecture circuit with the American Anti-Slavery Society, poet Frances Harper wore her hair in cornrows instead of mimicking white styles—a dramatic political statement at the time.
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In 1963, actress Cicely Tyson made Black hair history when she appeared on the CBS drama “East Side/West Side” wearing magnificent cornrows.
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By ‘68, the “Black is Beautiful” movement had become so pervasive that even the era’s top glamour girls, the Supremes, rocked afros on the cover of their album, “Love Child.”
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On the cover of Maxine Williams and Pamela Newman’s feminist essay collection, “Black Women’s Liberation,” the authors flaunt their fro’s, daring you to question their power.
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Melba Tolliver, the first Black network TV anchor, was suspended for wearing an afro while reporting from First Daughter Tricia Nixon’s White House wedding.
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The grand dame of revolutionary hair, activist Angela Davis holds up the “black power” fist at a rally in Bulgaria during her 1972 tour of Communist countries.
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Tired of straightening her fro, model Pat Evans shaved her head and became a star. In ’74, she told ESSENCE that the industry needed more “Black-owned agencies and Black-owned minds.” Powerful!
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A vintage Afro Sheen ad celebrates a very “don’t even think about messing with us”-looking black family.
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In January ’77, the Roots miniseries shattered records and sparked a renewed interest in Africana—especially hairstyles. Here, Kunta Kinte and Fanta get cozy on their wedding day.
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In ‘81, Rita Marley released her second album after her her husband Bob’s death. On the cover, she celebrates Rastafarian culture with her “freedom hair:” glorious, bouncy dreadlocks.
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Model/singer/actress Grace Jones made a powerful statement about race and gender by pairing her short, boyish natural with a long, flowing, platinum blonde ponytail.
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When Whoopi Goldberg debuted her one-woman “Spook Show,” she challenged America’s standards of beauty by going makeup-less, shaving off her brows, and wearing her hair in dreadlocks.
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In ’99, Fugees lead singer Lauryn Hill became a huge superstar—and a dreadlocked beauty icon—with the release of her award-winning album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.”
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Erykah Badu, always the style revolutionary, promotes black power on the cover of Great Britain’s “Trace” magazine.
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In 2005, natural-haired singer India Arie dropped “I Am Not My Hair,” which included lyrics like “Good hair means waves/Bad hair means you look like a slave/It’s time to redefine who we be.”
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In ‘09, The New Yorker ran a cover featuring Michelle Obama as an angry black terrorist in an afro and military boots. Critics felt that America wasn’t sophisticated enough to get the joke.
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Today, Jada Pinkett Smith marries three “revolutionary” hairstyles—cornrows, natural texture, and the mohawk—to create a new style, one that’s more about fashion than a political statement.
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At the 2011 Grammy Awards ceremony, Best New Artist winner Esperanza Spalding flaunted a long, full, picked-out afro instead of the usual weave, wig, or straightened styles.
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