Afro: The Hairstyle of 1968

1968 Hairstyle: The Afro

Marsha Hunt

In 1968, the afro was a fresh, new hairstyle that those in the African American community were embracing. Before the afro was popular African Americans were forced to conform to hairstyles that white people wore. They straightened their hair with chemicals and tried to preserve their curls by not getting in water. If they could not get their hair straighten, then they wore accessories such as scarfs to cover it until they could get it fixed. African American men during this time kept their hair short. When women started wearing their hair natural in afros, they were not accepted. Wearing natural hair was not a social norm at the time. Even other African Americans, such as parents of those wearing afros, did not accept the new hairstyle because they saw it as their child not grooming their hair. The afro was an astonishing hairstyle and some places even banned them. The press at the time even debated about the hairstyle. Surprisingly, some conventional whites even accepted the afro before those in the African American community. [1]

Kathleen Cleaver

“Dancers, jazz and folk musicians, and university students may have enjoyed greater freedom to defy conventional styles than ordinary working women and were the first to wear unstraightened styles” [1] The afro was widely unaccepted at first, but continued to gain more popularity. The natural hair movement became a rallying point or those fighting social injustice during this time. Those that were a part of the natural hair movement usually identified with the civil rights and black power movement. Stokely Carmichael stated during a rally, “We have to stop being ashamed of being black. A broad nose, a thick lip, and nappy hair is us and we are going to call that beautiful whether they like it or not. We are not going to fry our hair anymore”[1]

During the civil right movement, women that were fighting for their freedom found it was easier to wear their hair natural because it would not stay straight during protest, sit-ins, etc. Those women that attended protest would get food or water thrown on them, which unstraightened their hair so wearing it natural caused them less trouble. [4] The afro or natural hair became a political symbol that showed that African Americans were accepting themselves and it was empowering. This sparked the saying “Black is Beautiful”. [5] The afro was a noticeable hairstyle and gave power to the African American community. “And no hairstyle has as much political charge as the afro.” [2]

Jackson Five

The afro gained more and more popularity and famous people during 1968 began rocking the afro hairstyle. African Americans were embracing their roots in a completely different way. Pepsi cola and Kent cigarettes created advertisements during 1968 that included women that had distinguishable afros. Also in 1968, the television star, Clarence Williams III, from The Mod Squad wore a large afro. The African Americans were now able to express themselves and their culture through their natural hair. The act of wearing an afro was rebellious and threatening to the white community because African Americans were no longer trying to conform to their hairstyles.

In 1968, the afro was a symbol of power and defiance. It gave strength to the African American community and helped them to form an image that showed they were accepting of their history and empowered their natural selves. The afro was a new hairstyle to Americans at the time. It was a symbol of the civil rights and black power movements. As the afro became more popular, it also became more of a normal hairstyle rather than a political symbol. It became a hairstyle worn by famous people like the Jackson 5. More people were wearing afros making them more of a fashion trend then a political symbol. [4]

Today, the afro lives on. Though it has lost some of its original meaning, it is worn as a popular hairstyle today. Other natural hairstyles have made their way into the African American community such as braids and cornrows. They are still hairstyles that embrace natural hair and faced their own tribulations. Like afros, cornrows and braids have also been banned at some places such as jobs. “In 1981, Renee Rogers lost her job at American Airlines for wearing cornrows.  In 1987, Cheryl Tatum lost her job at the Hyatt hotel for wearing braids.” [3] Hairstyles originated in the African American community are also worn by those of all races and genders.

The afro caused a huge revolution during 1968. It was an inspiring hairstyle in the African American community. It took time for it to gain its popularity, but continues to be popular today. At first the hairstyle was a symbol of the black power and civil rights movement. It embraced natural beauty and African Americans no longer had to try and conform their hair to the styles of white Americans. The afro no longer has as much significance because it can be worn by everyone and most people no longer cast judgement on those who choose to wear their hair naturally. The afro will always make the beginning of the natural hair movement. It symbolizes the rebellion of African Americans in 1968. The hairstyle has been altered over the year, but continues to be an empowering hairstyle of African Americans today.

Makayla Hayes

Bibliography:

  1. Person. “History of the Afro Hairstyle.” LoveToKnow, LoveToKnow Corp, fashion- history.lovetoknow.com/body-fashions/afro-hairstyle.

 

  1. Amay, Joane. “The Most Memorable Afros of the Past 50 Years.” Allure, Allure Magazine, 16 Feb. 2017, www.allure.com/gallery/a-timeline-of-the-best-afros.

 

  1. Chinwe. “The Natural Hair Movement in the ’60s and ’70s; How It Began and Why It Ended.” BGLH Marketplace, 28 Dec. 2017, bglh-marketplace.com/2015/01/the-natural- hair-movement-in-the-60s-and-70s-how-it-began-and-why-it-ended/.

 

  1. Collins, Karyn D. “Untangled from Politics, the Proud Afro Hairstyle Rises Again.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 24 Feb. 2017, www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/02/24/afro rises/98327072/.

 

  1. “The Impact of The ‘Fro In The Civil Rights Movement.” Essence.com, www.essence.com/2015/02/11/impact-fro-civil-rights-movement.

7 thoughts on “Afro: The Hairstyle of 1968”

  1. Wow! I never thought of the afro as being a revolutionary political symbol. You did a fantastic job of giving the history of the afro in a flowing, story-like way that was very easy to follow and continue reading. I was completely unaware that wearing braids and cornrows can be considered unprofessional today. Great job tying your topic into the commemoration and meaning 50 years later. This essay was very focused and informative. I would be interested to read more about why these African American hairstyles are still not accepted in the workplace. Great work!

  2. Your site of memory was extremely interesting. I am currently taking a class on African art and culture and we briefly discussed the rise of the Afro in Africa as a result of the influence from media and popular culture. There was also an article that we read where the author emphasized how “straight hair used to be beautiful” but society nowadays perceives natural hair as a beautiful and as an accessory to your personality. I find this relevant here because I agree that the Afro is a deeply rooted symbol of empowerment and pride of one’s identity. Additionally, your connection of the Afro to today is a strong point in your analysis. However, I do believe that the African American community continues to be looked down on for their natural hair even though it is not as often. I have seen plenty of articles on how girls at school are forced to wear their hair a certain way because it was considered a distraction or how people have lost their jobs as it was considered unprofessional to not “tame” their hair. Overall, you did a good job in discussing how the Afro is a connective tissue of 1968 to present-day.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I had no idea that afro was a symbol from those days and it really helped me understand the political atmosphere better. Well written and good use of quotes. I also liked how you connected it to today.

  4. This post is well-written. Prior to reading this, I thought the afro was just a hairstyle, I had no idea that it has served as a symbol of protest. You said that some parents of those who sported the afro were not supportive of the hairstyle, so that makes me wonder-was the movement more popular amongst youth as compared to older generations? Overall, I think this post is very informative and interesting. Great work!

  5. Super interesting post! I never knew that a hairstyle could be banned. From what I know the afro has always been a hairstyle for African-Americans. But in recent years, I’ve seen an increased use of the term “Jew fro” where Jewish men with curly hair embraced their natural look. A hairstyle of similar controversy in today’s society is dreadlocks. Celebrities such as Zendaya have been criticized for embracing her African roots. I’m curious as to what hairstyles in the future will cause the same sort of societal drama.

  6. I really enjoyed reading your post. Your words are constructed in a flow, and I really learned more about how hair style can be incorporated in political statements. All the quotes you use really merge into the flow of the article, which is really hard to achieve. Also, I want to learn more about if white people try to get a Afro to just follow the trend and how black and white view Afro differently or similarly.

  7. When I saw this headline, I had no idea where this article was headed. However, after reading I really enjoyed how you were able to connect a blossoming hairstyle to the political and social revolutions occurring at the time. You also did a good job discussing how the afro arose and why it was so controversial at the time.

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