Reverting Back to Natural

March 16, 2014

The next four years would see a 180-turn back to natural.  Straightened styles were now viewed differently and the curly-kinky hair pattern was not a faux pas.  There was less of a social stigma behind wearing hair in its natural state, and more of a political statement – a correctness, if you will.  Black was nothing to be ashamed of, and was now a badge of pride.  People of African descent sought to reclaim all the areas of the African culture and pride that had been stripped of them and their ancestors, and celebrated their own skin color, features, clothing, culture, and hair.

Prelude to the Seventies

During the Civil Rights Movement, Afros were worn with pride as art, and as a bold statement of one’s politics — rejecting conformity to the dominant White culture and denying the negative connotations of African features and culture.

Black Is Beautiful

This phrase was coined to relabel the word black — a word that was as offensive as the “N” word. “Black is beautiful” redefined the African features it described as beautiful.

In 1966, the song Four Women was released by Nina Simone to encourage Black women to accept themselves as they were. The song was considered offensive by some and banned by many Black radio stations.

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Many parents and grandparents who had instilled the ideals of straight hair and mainstream culture style in their children found their child’s new Afro-centric style to be a disgrace, likening the Afro to be as foolish as not bathing. Some kicked their children out of the house for wearing an Afro.  Young adults who continued wearing their Afro-textured hair straight were ridiculed harshly.

The Afro: A Fashionable Political Statement

This era would be known as where politics and civil rights merged with fashion and beauty. Sick of being treated like second hand citizens this is where young African Americans decided to stand up and shout out. This lead to the birth of the Black Panthers and the rhetoric, Black and Proud. A Miss Natural Standard of Beauty pageant took place where the aim was to celebrate the beauty of African American features. The contest had a no make and no straight hair policy and was very well received.  The high social status stigma of straight hair was reverting back to the natural roots from where it had been born – the minds of young blacks were reverting, as well.

black power


A great amount of influence and inspiration towards Black Pride was gathered by college students reading the works of W.E.B. DeBois and Marcus Garvey.  James Brown un-conked his press and curl and wore his hair natural for a time, coining the phrase, “I’m Black and I’m Proud.”

James Brown afro

A unified Black experience was negated by “Blacker than thou” mentalities in which Blacks looked down upon individuals who did not present themselves visually as a part of the African-American Renaissance.  Black individuals who had naturally straighter hair used chemicals like curly relaxers, Octagon laundry soap, and home remedies made from vinegar, beer, and Borax cleaner to make naturally straighter hair appear more like an Afro.  The Afro inspired fear in many, because of its supposed link to Black Panther violence and strongly assertive attitudes. As a result, those wearing an Afro were seen as violent, militant, and separatist by numerous Whites and Blacks.

Angela Davis' famous afro

The stage play Hair depicted the assertive decision for Blacks to wear their hair in Afros as big as they wanted and for Whites to wear their hair as long as they wanted.

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(can you tell I love this play?)

In an extreme case, a pastor of a conservative church preached that all individuals wearing Afros were going to hell.  Afros were bad for Black hair stylists who marketed press and curls, and prior hair-straightening products, but eventually business would adjust to cater to the new Afro-style demand.

1970s Ultra Sheen advertisement

Ultra Sheen Afro Advertisement

Afro advertisement from the 1970s

Afro Sheen TV Commercial

Pam Grier

next up: The Seventies

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