Natural Roots is a passion project created with the intent to gain a historic perspective of natural hair in America and it’s correlation to the societal views of today. It has been a long battle for Black bodies to embrace their natural roots and styles. It is helpful to examine history to understand why. This project grabs a snippet of time sharing historical facts and celebrating the beauty of natural hair. Each illustration is inspired by various talents, photographers, and research.

* Illustrations have no direct correlation to caption*


Socially hair grooming played a significant part in status and identity in African Tribes to identify someone’s social status based on ethnicity, social rank, age, martial status, wealth, religion, and more. Twisting, braiding, cotton/wool thread weaving adding animal fat and clay were all techniques to create elaborate looks. Styling took hours and sometimes days. Much like today this time was used to socialize and form meaningful bonds.

Approximately around 1444 Europeans kidnapped Africans of all social statuses and traded them on the West Coast of Africa. To rid them of their identity and be in control, they shaved their heads. This was considered an unspeakable crime.

In 1619 the first slaves wee brought to Jamestown. The enslaved African were no longer allowed to speak their native languages, do traditional dances, and maintain their hair in the styles they chose. African culture and traditions began to disappear.

In 1786, the governor of New Orleans enacted The Tignon Law. It required that black women cove their hair to indicate their class. Black women appropriated this law by covering their hair lavishly with a headscarf or fabric and jewels. In the 1800s to care for their hair, slaves would often use kitchen fats, butter, or goose grease to moisturize their hair. They would also use wool carding tools to comb their hair.

In the 1860s-1900s, following emancipation, black people faced economic and social pressure to assimilate into European culture. Some began to alter the texture of their hair with chemicals. During those times black people straightened their hair because of the perpetuated belief that coiled or kinky hair was unattractive. Conforming to European culture was seen by many as necessary for employment and to avoid abuse.

Hairstyles continued to emerge in reflection of the times. One being the iconic 1920s “flapper” look, a style Josephine Baker helped popularize during the Jazz era. Many women followed suite by cutting their hair short, which some interpreted as a rejection of traditional female roles. As the style gained mass appeal more sophisticated variations developed such as finger waves and the shingle bob. Flappers turned the sporty, cropped look into another playful, gender-bending signature of the Jazz Age.

During the Civil Rights Movement (60s), black people grew their Afros out as a symbol of pride and rebellion. Sales of straightening chemicals and hot combs declined in light of the Black Power movement’s support of natural hair. At this time the Civil Rights Movement also inspired a cultural movement popularly known as “Black is Beautiful”. It urged black men and women to embrace their heritage and leave their hair natural.

The origins of dreadlocks is hard to trace, but there is evidence of the style in Ancient Egypt, Viking, and Pacific Islander culture. In 1985, Whoopi Goldberg popularized dreadlocks grown for non-religious reason.

In the 80s a new perm formula was introduced creating the Jheri Curl, to maintain the look activators and heavy moisturizing creams were used.

Although braiding has been a part of black culture for centuries, Janet Jackson brought box braids to mainstream culture in the iconic movie Poetic Justice.

Today many proudly rock the various beautiful styles of natural hair, but that doesn’t mean it’s accepted. It is still a battle to reflect our hair in our own individual ways. Regardless of the ignorant questions or misinterpreted perceptions, this rich history makes me fall more in love with my natural roots.