BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Evolution of Black Hair
LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - For centuries, black men and women around the world have created hairstyles that are uniquely their own.
The Evolution of Black Hair exhibit has its opening debut from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. this evening at Historic City Hall in downtown Lake Charles. It will be on display through March 24.
From box braids to dreadlocks and Afros, many of the most iconic black hairstyles can be found on the walls of Upskale Beauty Salon.
It’s safe to say these stylists can tackle any type of hair.
“Our hair kind of tells a lot about us and who we are,” said Angel Purdy, salon manager.
“Haircuts, color, that’s what’s become important to me,” said Errin Bell.
“We can always change it up, it’s not boring, it’s fun,” said Ashley Ceasar.
If we take a look at the timeline of black hair in America, African-American hairstyles have always made a statement, whether intentional or not. From dreadlocks in the 1920s to Afros in the ’60s and ’70s - and we can’t forget the iconic Jerri Curl popularized by artists such as Prince and Michael Jackson – they are all symbols of racial pride. However, the quest for straight hair - championed by Madam C.J. Walker in the early 1900’s - is still evolving to this day.
"Being that we come from a society that did not always accept our hair and even our appearance” serves as a daily motivator for Purdy.
Purdy says she has seen the evolution of hair through her 20 years of work. But the changes in black hairstyles stand out the most.
“We saw the extravagant hairstyles on National Geographic, but now we’re actually seeing it on a more regular basis on social media,” she said. “Because of that, we’re able to better embrace it. and because we’re able to embrace it, we’re able to embrace ourselves.”
Despite long-time bias, more recently people of color are showcasing their natural hair. It’s a movement that’s transcending cultural boundaries amidst discrimination.
Stories like that of Deandre Arnold, a high school senior recently denied his chance to walk at graduation have sparked a recurring conversation - all because of his hair.
“His hairstyle...that’s not important at all and he’s showing his identity, he’s proud of being an African-American,” said Grace Bell.
But there’s something about sharing stories and experiences -even bad ones - that builds the relationship between a client and a stylist.
“Let’s tell the story of why we wear our hair the way we wear our hair.”
The narrative becomes even more clear when you throw an artist into the mix. In the eyes of Alicia Johnson Black, a local artist and educator, black hair has always told a story.
“What we’re doing now is nothing new,” she said. “If you know where your hair came from, if you know why they did it, then you’d understand.”
It’s an understanding that she hopes resonates with the Lake Charles community through her artwork, which is currently on display as part of the Black Heritage Gallery downtown.
“As an educator, I see a lot of little black girls struggle with their hair, struggle with their skin complexion,” she said. “I want other cultures that come in to understand us a little better, understand why we do our hair the way we do it.”
It’s something that Alicia says she instills within her young daughter every day.
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