The Houston Sun
As we embark upon another round of celebratory traditions for June 19, 1865 or as we affectionately call it, Juneteenth, it is important to remember that this holiday does not just commemorate the date that the Emancipation Proclamation was enforced in Texas. It represents the day that the opportunity was presented for the emancipation of the black psyche from the limitations imposed upon us through slavery. A large portion of our black identity has been shaped and reshaped in the 150 years since we have been freed (148 years in Texas). Most often our identity is reflected in our beauty culture. From the braids and locks that were violently removed from the heads of Africans enslaved and carried to the West on slave ships to the naturals, relaxers, and weaves sported by women today, how we feel about ourselves and our culture has historically been displayed through our hair and cosmetic adornments.
It is not surprising then, that upon the heels of freedom many of our first generation entrepreneurs were pioneers in the black hair care industry as well as advocates for financial and community empowerment.
Such entrepreneurs recognized the fractured sense of self in the Black Community as a result of enslavement and helped us regain our footing as we once again embraced that thing that makes us unique- the ability to express ourselves through our beauty culture like only we can!
A few of the many notable figures in the shaping of our beauty identity are:
Annie Malone(1869-1957) developed her own shampoos and scalp treatments to grow and straighten hair and used street demos as her main marketing tool. Her company, Poro Products became an international company with customers in the United States, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. In 1918 Malone built a four-story million dollar factory and beauty school complex in the historic St. Louis neighborhood known as The Ville. She employed over 175 people (including at one point Sarah Breedlove, who would later become known as Madam C.J. Walker.)
Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) suffered from hair loss in her thirties and began experimenting with different hair treatments and products to regrow her own hair. At 39, she moved to Denver, Colorado where she married Charles Walker and began selling her “Wonderful Hair Grower” through door-to-door sales. In 1908 she opened Leila College (her daughter’s namesake) to train “hair culturists.” In 1910 she opened the Madam CJ Walker Manufacturing Company in Indiana and began training of the “Walker Agents”. The company empowered black women to gain economic mobility through commissions from direct sales rather than being pigeonholed as maids and nurses. In addition C.J. Walker Preparations, included facial treatment powders and other cosmetic treatments created for and marketed to Black women. Walker is featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the first Self-Made Millionaire.
Madame Nobia A. Franklin (1880-1934) expanded her beauty salon into a chain in 1915 and eventually created one of the first major lines of cosmetics to include face powders that were meant to flatter, rather than lighten darker skin tones. By 1917 she opened the Franklin School of Beauty Culture and relocated the manufacturing, salon and educational operations to right here to Houston, Tx. In 1922 she moved to Chicago to further her business and soon began to teach others “the Franklin way” of styling hair using her products. Like Malone and Walker, she trained women to style and grow hair using her products and encouraged them to set up shops to style, straighten hair and sell the company’s skin and hair products. Products included hair tonics, hair growers, soaps, pressing oil and face powder customized for an African American clientele.