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The Afro represents cultural change within Black Diaspora

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “There was some early blow-back resulting from the Afro. Beside the fact that many Black parents then frowned on the new expression of Black pride—and often prohibiting younger children from donning this haircut—White society was uncertain what to make of this outward and unapologetic show of African American pride and independence.”

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A once ‘defiant’ hairstyle remains mired on controversy

By Merdies Hayes, Editor, Our Weekly News

“How ya doin’? Good to see ya. Have a seat.”

O.D. Threatt makes way for the barber chair. You feel at home as he affixes the bib over your chest. He takes your glasses. He asks the usual question: “Cut it short?” He hasn’t needed to boost the chair upward for at least 50 years.

Between the chit-chat about the Dodgers or Lakers—there’s very little political talk—the subject of the Afro (or “natural”) comes up, of which he is a font of knowledge. O.D., by his estimate, has probably given 50,000 haircuts over the past 60 years. Of those, there’s a good chance that half have been Afros since his days at the legendary Upright Barber Shop at 58th Street and Central Avenue in South Los Angeles. Back then, in the late 1960s, it was the place to go to wear that distinctive style that marked a new era of Black social consciousness.

Wanting to make a statement

“I was thinking about that just the other day,” he said. “You know, before the natural, Black teenagers generally kept their hair relatively short. Much more conservative, often with a “Kennedy part” on the left side. That all changed with the natural. The kids wanted to make a statement. They wanted a separate identity from White America.”

There was some early blow-back resulting from the Afro. Beside the fact that many Black parents then frowned on the new expression of Black pride—and often prohibiting younger children from donning this haircut—White society was uncertain what to make of this outward and unapologetic show of African American pride and independence.

“No, a good many parents would not let their little kids have a natural,” O.D. explained. “That was a little too daring—a little too ‘militant’—for the generation who moved from the South after World War II. It was different for the teenagers. They saw people like James Brown, Angela Davis or the Black Panthers wearing a natural, and this expression was part of new generation of kids who were exposed more to their history going back to slavery and further back to Africa.”

Turning tables on ‘nappy,’ ‘woolly’ hair

In the 1960s, Black people said, essentially, “to hell with that” and turned the tables on the familiar and unflattering tropes of “nappy,” “woolly” and “unruly” hair in liberating themselves from any and everything originally associated with White “acceptance.” After generations of subjecting themselves to European beauty standards, African Americans decided to take back their hair. This newfound acceptance was widely known as the “Black Is Beautiful” movement, which sprang from the Black Power movement.

With political activists such as Davis, Huey P. Newton and Jesse Jackson proudly rocking Afros while fighting oppression, the hairstyle quickly emerged as a symbol of Black beauty, liberation and pride.

Black activists were agitated by White supremacy and Jim Crow laws. As well, they wanted to show an outward sign of their frustration toward Dr. Martin Luther’s King Jr.’s philosophy of nonviolence. The Afro would become Black beauty personified—and done without White validation. The Afro did not care about critics. It did not care about
disapproving looks. For many Black men, it was about “cool pose” and, to a degree, about hyper-masculinity in the face of police brutality and constant oppression.

What may be most interesting about the Afro is its cultural trajectory. In the 1970s, for instance, the Afro was perceived as a major political statement that, beforehand, would have never appeared in the pages of a mainstream publication, or graced the motion picture or television screens. The Afro originated in both a political and emotional climate. The style would fit with a broader generational rejection of artifice but, more importantly, it expressed defiance of racist beauty norms, rejection of middle-class conventions (much like the hippie movement of the mid-60s) and demonstrated pride in Black beauty. The unstraightened hair of the Afro was simultaneously a way to celebrate the cultural and physical distinctiveness of the Black race, and to fully reject practices associated with any emulation of Whites.

An ‘in-your-face’ style for Black youth

“You didn’t see Black celebrities or athletes wearing the natural. Willie Mays didn’t have one. Neither did Jim Brown or Muhammad Ali in their early days,” O.D. said. He explained that the Martin Luther King generation would have said the Afro was a little too “in-your-face” and that it would do more to instigate White America rather than attracting them to the subject of Black equality.

“The young people saw it differently,” O.D. noted. “This was their time to speak. It was their time of self-expression. The Black teenagers wore the Afro with pride and distinction because it was theirs…and no White person could take it away from them.”

Black hair has been an integral feature of Black history, from African tribal styles to Caribbean dreadlocks. In early African civilizations, for instance, hairstyles could indicate a person’s family background, tribe and social status. As an example, when men from the Wolof tribe (in modern Senegal and Gambia) went to war, they wore a braided style, while women in mourning—in other words a widow—would either not “do” her hair or adopt a subdued style.

During the slave trade, these captives took many of their African customs with them to the New World, including their specially-designed combs—not terribly different from the ever-present Afro combs of the 1970s. During the 19th Century, when slavery was abolished throughout much of the world, many Black people felt pressure to “fit in” with mainstream White society and adjusted their hair accordingly.

Emancipation the ‘great oppressor’?

“Black people felt compelled to smooth their hair and [texture it] to fit in easier, and to move in society better (and in camouflage) almost,” said Aaryn Lynch who produced a London exhibition on the history of the Afro comb. “I’ve nicknamed the post-emancipation era ‘the great oppression’ because that’s when Black people had to go through really intensive methods to smooth their hair. Men and women would put their hair in a hot chemical mixture—that would almost burn their scalp—to make it look more European and silky.”

In the 1930s, Rastafari theology developed in Jamaica from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, the legendary political activist who worked to improve the status of Black people. Believers then and today are forbidden to cut their hair and instead twist it into dreadlocks.

While it is not clear when and where the style originated, there are references in the Old Testament. The Hindu deity Shiva is sometimes depicted wearing dreadlocks. Along with the Afro, dreadlocks remain the most distinctive Black hairstyle.

A tumultuous timeline

Black hair—specifically the Afro—can trace a centuries-old timeline:

  • 1444: Europeans trading along the West African coast observe people wearing elaborate hairstyles, including Afros, locks, plaits and twists
  • 1619: The first slaves are brought to Jamestown, VA, many of which have an Afro and/or plaits and twists
  • 1700s: Calling Black hair “wool,” many Whites dehumanized slaves. The more elaborate African hairstyles could not be retained
  • 1800s: Without the traditional combs and herbal treatments, slaves rely on bacon grease, butter and kerosene as hair conditioners and cleaners. Lighter-skinned, straight-haired Blacks would command a higher price than the more “kinky-haired” slaves
  • 1865: Slavery ends, but Whites look upon Black women who adopt a Western coiffure as “well-adjusted” meaning that “good’ hair is a specific White attribute
  • 1880: Metal hot combs, invented by the French in 1845, are used by Blacks to temporarily straighten kinky hair
  • 1900s: Madame C.J. Walker develops a range of hair-care products for Black hair
  • 1954: George E. Johnson launches the Johnson Products Co. with Ultra Wave Hair Culture to be used as a “permanent” hair straightener for both Black men and women
  • 1963: Actress Cicely Tyson wears cornrows on the television drama “East Side/West Side”
  • 1970: Angela Davis becomes an icon of the Black Power movement with her large Afro
  • 1971: Melba Tolliver is fired from the ABC News affiliate in New York for wearing an Afro while covering the marriage of Tricia Nixon
  • 1988: Director Spike Lee exposes the schism between “good-hair/bad-hair” among African Americans in the film “School Daze”
  • 2006: Black hair care becomes a billion-dollar industry
  • 2009: The movie “Good Hair” grosses $4 million

Celebrating Black beauty

At the peak of its popularity in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Afro epitomized the “Black is Beautiful” movement. In those years, the style represented a celebration of Black beauty and repudiation of Eurocentric beauty standards. The Afro also created a sense of commonality among African Americans who saw the style as a mark of a
person who was willing to take a different stand against racial injustice.

Even today, the natural state of Black hair causes debate in the workforce. Because certain African hairstyles may leave White employers baffled and confused, many workplaces still do not tolerate locks or natural hair and require that Black men and women adhere to a style more suited with White fashion norms.

This debate has led to an historic bill introduced by California State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (30th District) making California the first state in the country to ban racial discrimination based on natural hair. Known as the CROWN (“Creating a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair”), the bill was signed in early July by Gov. Gavin Newsom to amend the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the state Education Code to prohibit employers and schools from enforcing purportedly “race neutral” grooming policies that disproportionately impact people of color.

Sen. Holly J. Mitchell’s CROWN Act

“This law protects the right of Black Californians to choose to wear their hair in its natural form, without pressure to conform to Eurocentric norms,” Mitchell said. “I am so excited to see the culture change that will ensue from the law.” Similar legislation has been proposed in New York and in New Jersey, with New York in February banning any form of hair discrimination at school and in the workplace.

History, to an extent, is defined by a simple haircut not simply for one person, but for a generation who came of age during the Black Power Movement.

You see yourself in the hand mirror, just to check if your look remains normal for the times. Everything checks out.

“Everything okay?” O.D. asks. “Looks good O.D. Each time I stop in you seem to trim more gray hair.” “That’s father time for ya,” he replied.

And with that, the bib is removed, and any remaining hair is neatly brushed away until next time.

“Thanks O.D.” “Thank you,” he responds. “See ya next time.”

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Fighting an Unjust System, The Bail Project Helps People Get Out of Jail and Reunites Families

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

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Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.
Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

Hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily — many find it challenging to pay bail

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

As public support for criminal justice reform continues to build — and as the pandemic raises the stakes higher — advocates remain adamant that it’s more important than ever that the facts are straight, and everyone understands the bigger picture.

“The U.S. doesn’t have one ‘criminal justice system;’ instead, we have thousands of federal, state, local, and tribal systems,” Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner found in a study released by the nonprofit Prison Policy Initiative.

Together, these systems hold almost 2 million people in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, 186 immigration detention facilities, and 82 Indian country jails, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories,” the study authors said in a press release.

With hundreds of thousands of individuals locked up in jails almost daily, many find it challenging to pay bail.

Recognizing America’s ongoing mass incarceration problem and the difficulties families have in bailing out their loved ones, a new organization began in 2018 to offer some relief.

The Bail Project, a nationwide charitable fund for pretrial defendants, started with a vision of combating mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system.

Adrienne Johnson, the regional director for The Bail Project, told NNPA’s Let It Be Known that the organization seeks to accomplish its mission one person at a time.

“We have a mission of doing exactly what we hope our criminal system would do: protect the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that we know can criminalize poverty,” Johnson stated.

“Our mission is to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system,” she insisted.

Johnson said The Bronx Freedom Fund, at the time a new revolving bail fund that launched in New York, planted the seed for The Bail Project more than a decade ago.

“Because bail is returned at the end of a case, we can build a sustainable revolving fund where philanthropic dollars can be used several times per year, maximizing the impact of every contribution,” Johnson stated.

In addition to posting bail at no cost to the person or their family, The Bail Project works to connect its clients to social services and community resources based on an individual’s identified needs, including substance use treatment, mental health support, stable housing and employment.

Johnson noted that officials created cash bail to incentivize people to return to court.

Instead, she said, judges routinely set cash bail well beyond most people’s ability to afford it, resulting in thousands of legally innocent people incarcerated while they await court dates.

According to The Bail Project, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted by cash bail, and of all Black Americans in jail in the U.S., nearly half are from southern prisons.

“There is no way to do the work of advancing pretrial reform without addressing the harmful effects of cash bail in the South,” said Robin Steinberg, Founder, and CEO of The Bail Project.

“Cash bail fuels racial and economic disparities in our legal system, and we look forward to supporting the community in Greenville as we work to eliminate cash bail and put ourselves out of business.”

Since its launch, The Bail Project has stationed teams in more than 25 cities, posting bail for more than 18,000 people nationwide.

Johnson said the organization uses its national revolving bail fund, powered by individual donations, to pay bail.

The Bail Project has spent over $47 million on bail.

“When we post bail for a person, we post the full cash amount at court,” Johnson stated.

“Upon resolution of the case, the money returns to whoever posted. So, if I posted $5,000 to bail someone out, we then help the person get back to court and resolve the case,” she continued.

“The money then comes back to us, and we can use that money to help someone else. So, we recycle that.”

Johnson said eliminating cash bail and the need for bail funds remains the goal.

“It’s the just thing to do. It restores the presumption of innocence, and it restores families,” Johnson asserted.

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PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina

NNPA NEWSWIRE — U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and other participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.
The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Administrator to honor legacy of environmental justice and civil rights at event in Warren County, site of protests that launched the movement 40 years ago

WASHINGTON (September 22, 2022) – On Saturday, September 24, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael S. Regan will travel to Warren County, North Carolina to deliver remarks on EPA’s environmental justice and civil rights priorities and the progress we’ve achieved since the first protest and march that launched the movement 40 years ago this week. Administrator Regan will make a significant announcement on President Biden’s commitment to elevate environmental justice and civil rights enforcement at EPA and across the federal government and ensure the work to support our most vulnerable communities continues for years to come.

Administrator Regan will be joined by significant figures from the civil rights and environmental justice movements, including participants from the original Warren County protests for the event.

Who:
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan
Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01)
Environmental Justice and Civil Rights Leaders
Warren County residents and community leaders
Additional stakeholders

What: Remarks on EPA environmental justice and civil rights priorities and honoring the legacy of the environmental justice and civil rights movement
When: Saturday, September 24, 2022,
Doors Open: 11:30 AM ET
Program: 12:45 PM ET
;
Where: Warren County Courthouse
109 S Main Street
Warrenton, NC 27589
Livestream: A livestream of this event will be available at epa.gov/live.

The post PRESS ROOM: EPA Administrator Regan to Join Leaders of Civil Rights, Environmental Justice Movement for Significant Announcement in Warren County, North Carolina first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane

Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …
The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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Join Al McFarlane (Host), Brenda Lyle-Gray (Co-Host) and Special Guest Co-Host Diana Hawkins, Executive Director for …

The post September 26 | Governance at the Local Level | The Conversation with Al McFarlane first appeared on BlackPressUSA.

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