The hairstyle of choice among African Americans from the mid-1960s through the 1970s was the Afro. The Afro featured African Americans' naturally curly hair trimmed in a full, evenly round shape around the head. During the fight for equal rights for blacks during the 1960s, as many blacks joined together to apply political pressure on the American government, they also developed their own fashion statements, which included the Afro. For many, the Afro, also known as the brush or the natural, was as much an emblem of racial pride as a fashion statement.
Prior to the 1960s most African Americans adopted straight hair, like the majority of society did, often through chemical treatments. These unnatural hairstyles fell out of favor, however, as the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s ushered in a new era of racial consciousness among American blacks. Many African Americans began to believe that allowing their hair to grow in its natural state without chemical alteration signified their acceptance of themselves and their racial identities. The Afro was a gesture of political defiance, a signal that they were ready to change the way they were treated in society. Many of the leading figures of the Civil Rights movement, including Jesse Jackson (1941–), Stokely Carmichael (1941–1998), Angela Davis (1944–), Andrew Young (1927–), and Huey Newton (1942–1989), wore the Afro hairstyle at one time or another. Over time the Afro became one of the icons of the Civil Rights movement, alongside the clenched fist salute and the slogan "Black Power."
In the 1970s the Afro grew even more popular. Popular entertainers Michael Jackson (1958–), Roberta Flack (1939–), and Richard Roundtree (1942–), and sports icons Julius Erving (1950–) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1947–) lent a stylish prestige to the hairstyle, which grew ever higher and bushier. The baseball player Oscar Gamble's (1949–) luxuriant Afro grew so large that his batting helmet routinely popped off his head as he ran the bases. Beginning in the 1980s the Afro began to fall out of fashion, as a broader spectrum of African American hair and beauty styles emerged, including dreadlocks, twists, corkscrews, and fades. In the twenty-first century the classic 1970s Afro has been adopted only by trendsetters and those looking to cultivate a retro style.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Byrd, Ayana D., and Lori Tharps. Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001.
"Hair and Beauty Culture." Encarta Africana. http://www.africana.com/archive/articles/tt_356.asp (accessed on August 27, 2003).
Af·ro / ˈafrō/ • n. a thick hairstyle with very tight curls that sticks out all around the head, like the natural hair of some black people.