My youngest son celebrated his birthday by inviting me and other family members over to his house for dinner. No big deal, until as an elder, I was asked to say the blessing. It should have been no surprise; after all, it was natural that he would ask me. However, I was totally caught off guard. While many things were happening before we all actually settled down to eat; “where are the napkins?” “where are the serving spoons?,” “call the kids,” “Junior, what are you doing?,” are some of the things that could be heard. Around thirty minutes later, a circle of everyone present formed around the table. Once everyone was holding the hand of the person next to him or her, all eyes turned toward me. It was time to say the blessing. Most people in the family know about my “Mission” and I know they were eager to hear what I would say. All my life I’ve heard blessings. They all started something like this, “Father, in the name of Jesus we thank you for” or “Father in the name of Jesus we ask you to bless…” or “Lord, we come to you in the name of Jesus.” In fact, almost every prayer for anything began something like this or ended with the words “in Jesus name we Pray.”
For me, all of this changed when I became a “Woman On A Mission” looking for answers to questions about my people in the diaspora. Although my search continues to take me to distant places in time, I was, literally, shaken to my core when I came across the DVD “The 1st Council That Created Jesus Christ.” The Nicean Council 325 A.D. was written and produced by Dr. Ray Hagins who is the Founder, Chief Elder & Spiritual Leader of The Afrikan Village & Cultural Center Inc. It is headquartered in St. Louis, Mo. He is a therapist, clinician, Pilot, and a musician with five degrees.
When my religious beliefs collided with historical facts, a whole new world came into existence for me. Dr. Ray’s teachings helped to guide me to and through found knowledge I never knew existed and seek out more information for myself. Jack Nicolson’s statement in the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men,” “You can’t handle the truth” could not have been more apropos to my situation. After listening to the Nicean Council DVD, I walked around in a daze. No other factual information shook me the way this one did. It changed my thinking about church and things dealing with spirituality. One of two interesting quotes in this video says:
“In order for those who have been misled
to begin to see “correctly,” They must have a
clear, analytical understanding of the origin,
strategies, mechanics, purpose and methods of the
device that has blinded them in the first place.”
The following quote was written long before the Jesus we worship was born.
Emperor Hadrian refers to the Alexandrian
worshippers of Serapis calling themselves
“Bishops of Christ:”
“Egypt, which you commended to me my dearest,
Servianus, I have found to be wholly fickle
and inconsistent, and continually waffled
about by every breath of fame. The worshippers
of Serapis (here) are called Christians, and
those who are devoted to the god Serapis
(I find), call themselves Bishops of Christ.”
Hadrian to Servianus, 134 A.D.
From the “Nile Valley Contributions to Civilization” by Anthony T. Browder, pg. 190 says:
Figuratively speaking, we live in two different worlds. I can only guess what your world is like for you and your children. However, as a descendant of Africa and those enslaved souls who survived the slave trade, I have experienced what it means to be darker than a paper bag, living under the dominance of a privileged people. I know the painful truth about what my world is like for my children and me.
Through instinct, passed down to me from my mother, I have learned how to shelter my children from what I know will come their way. My mother, like many of us today subconsciously refuses to see the truth about what has and is happening to our people here on planet earth. As a boy, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s mom told him not to come home through the woods; disobeying her he witnessed, first hand, the hanging of a black man. I believe, this experience gave birth to the seed that produced ‘The Nation of Islam’. To a large degree, negative experiences continue to happen today. When looking at social media, you’d think that the residue of slavery and Jim-crow-ism are gone.
I read several years ago that you had adopted two black girls. I struggled with the thought of calling you to congratulate you or warn you of the trouble ahead. How in this world will you shelter them from what I know is coming their way. How in the world would I say this to you? Racism isn’t a bad cold, where one gets up in the morning with sniffles. It’s passed down from generation to generation and it will take generations and major world events to eradicate. Remember, we’re talking about something that has been bred into white people for over 500 years. I’ve read that all people have experienced slavery. However, African Americans have experienced the worse kind of slavery, (stolen from our homeland, babies sold away while moms worked in the field, bred like animals are just a few examples). Our culture and language have been stripped from us. Although we as a people have made major contributions to society, we’ve been told that we have contributed nothing.
The day will come when your children will begin to ask questions. The one question that launched me into searching for answers is: Did the Creator make black people slaves? Is that the reason we are looked down upon as the lowest of human beings? Are you willing to look deep into the history of your children’s descendants and learn about who they are? To be sure, your children are from a great people. Many African American children don’t know this because we’re not taught this in school. Here on this planet, in white or black schools, our children will never learn this. I saw on social media where some ugly things are being said to your girls, that they are the color of “poop” and other kids not wanting to play with them because of their “dark skin.” Do you think this is the end of their trials? No, this is just the beginning of their trials here on planet Earth.
Under the heading of The Protestant and Baptist Religions in Claude Anderson’s book titled, “Black Labor, White Wealth” The Search for Power and Economic Justice, Pg.73, reads:
“The Protestant religions in America have always
reflected the values and mores of the dominant
white society. Beginning in 1619, the protestant
denominations accepted and supported secular
decisions to enslave and exploit blacks as a
separate labor class for the betterment of the
developing white nation.”
According to www.nairaland.com/241597/first-british-slave-ship-reach, “Sir John Hawkins had the dubious distinction of becoming the first slave ship captain to bring Africans to the Americas. Hawkins was a religious gentleman who insisted that his crew “serve God daily” and “love one another.” The first British slave ship to reach the Americas was called “The Good Ship Jesus” or “Jesus of Lubeck.” “Twenty years after its purchase the ship, in disrepair, was leant to Sir John Hawkins by Queen Elizabeth.”
Silas Jackson a former slave and interviewee for the 1930s Works Project Administration “I Was A Slave,” put it this way, saying,
“On Sunday the slaves who
wanted to worship would gather
at one of the large cabins with one
of the overseers present
and have their Church.”
The African American Registry website states that the religious church meetings of the enslaved were watched to detect plans for escape or insurrection. Nat Turner’s revolt in Virginia, “born out of religious inspiration of slaves”, horrified white Americans.” One slave recalls:
“the white folks would come in when the
colored people would have prayer meeting,
and whip every one of them. Most
of them thought that when colored
people were praying it was against them.”
’ Although I’ve found many more questionable quotes from the bible and elsewhere, the following stopped me in my tracks:
For if the truth of God
has more abounded through my lie
why pass judgment on me.
Pope Leo X – “most infamous declaration about Christianity”
“How well we know what a profitable superstition this fable of Christ has been for us.”
The following is an excerpt from The Interesting Life of Olaudah Esquiano 1789, describing the middle passage, The Abolition Project, gallery.nen.gov.uk,
The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. The air soon became unfit for breathing, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. This wretched situation was made worse by the chains. The shrieks of women, and the groaning of the dying, created a scene of horror almost unbelievable. Three desperate slaves tried to kill themselves by jumping overboard. Two drowned, the other was captured and beaten unmercifully. When I refused to eat, I too was beaten.
As a young girl growing-up in a holiness church, Christianity was all I knew until my young adult days. My goal was to become a minister after retirement. I read and listened to audio versions of the bible three times. It was then that I began to ask questions and find answers that shook me to my core.
“Slavery,” House Divided:
The Civil War Research Engine
at Dickerson College
“The Iceman Inheritance, Prehistoric Sources of Western Man’s Racism” by Michael Bradley was published in 1991 with a newIntroduction by John Henrik Clarke, which states on pg. xx,
“In the year 1457 the Council of Cardinals
met in Holland and sanctioned,
as a righteous and progressive idea,
the enslavement of Africans for the purpose
of their conversion to Christianity,
and to be exploited in the labor market
as chattel property.”
Not only did the church sanction slavery, “but was a major owner of slaves,” Pg. 71, Black Labor, White Wealth.
“In 1488, Pope Innocent VIII accepted
a gift of one hundred Moorish slaves from
Ferdinand of Spain and then distributed
the slaves to various cardinals and nobles.”
Black Labor, White Wealth goes on the say on page 67, “The sheer number of people enslaved was unprecedented.”
“An estimated 15 million to 60 million blacks
were captured in Africa for enslavement.
More than 35 million died on route to
various ports, with approximately
15 million actually reaching the
Anderson goes on to say on pg. 117,
In the South American and West Indian
markets, slaves drew an average sale
price of $500 in the 17th-18th centuries. When
this figure is multiplied by the 10-15 million
that historian Howard Zinn estimated
were transported to the Americas,
the revenue from onetime only sales
would amount to more than
a trillion dollars.
Before reaching their final destination, African slaves were “typically sold at least twice.” After being bought and “seasoned” in the Caribbean,
Like all children, I took every thing my mom and other grown folk said for granted. At first glance, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what all children do. Why not? Moms, dads and others, (blood or not), care for us, feed us, protect us and give us our foundation for living. On top of that, they introduce us to religion at a very early age. The Christian religion, we as blacks were introduced to, was handed down to us via the slave master. That alone should give us pause. When digging deeper into what this religion was for black people, a whole new light comes into focus. According to Pan-Africanist, writer, historian and professor, John Henrik Clark, “religion is the deification of a culture.” One question comes to mind; what was the African’s deity before the Europeans invaded Africa?
In the Christian bible, (KJV), Malachi 4:2 gives us a clue by saying “But unto you that fear my name shall the S-U-N of righteousness arise with healing his wings.” On the top of the door entrance of ancient temples in Africa is the sun and wings that extend from either side of the sun. This is not a suggestion that African ancestors worshipped the sun, but that they had another way of looking at man’s connection to the creator.
In 1983, I visited the port city of Luanda in the capital of Angola, West Africa. The slave fortress there consisted of a church built on top of a holding cell for hundreds of Africans. A large door (“the door of no return”) in the holding cell opened to a view of the sea.
John Henrik Clark states in his book, Christopher Columbus and the African Holocaust that, the Portuguese could not sell the African King, King Ansa the Bible-story, “forced that gun story on him.”pg 27
“They forced their way in
and they built Elmina Castle, the
first of the great slave forts along
the coast of Ghana. If 36 of 42 slave
fortresses are in Ghana, this tells you
that Ghana was the headquarters
of the slave trade.
I mention this because
there is some evidence to indicate
that Christopher Columbus was a part of this expedition.”
After our visit to the slave fort, we visited a local church. There the congregants sang a very familiar Christian song in their language. It was as if someone turned on the faucet and I had not developed the skills to turn it off. Just think, people that looked exactly like the church mothers back home singing about Jesus with all the fervor of a Wednesday night service back in the states. In fact, almost every female member of our group, broke down in tears after one of our visits, starting with the slave fortress. We never discussed it.
I remember meeting Ethel Payne when she agreed to be interviewed for a profile on Capital Edition. I was totally impressed with her life story and read everything I could in preparation for the interview. Today, when reading over her accomplishments, I continue to be impressed with this soft spoken journalist and “First Lady of the Black Press.”
Ethel Payne was a Columnist, lecturer and freelance writer. Born in Chicago, Illinois on August 14, 1911, she became one of the most prominent black women reporters of her generation. She began her career in the 1950s as a reporter for the Chicago Defender. Although most of her career was spent at the Defender, she free-lanced for a number of black newspapers and for a few years was an on-air commentator for CBS television. She would be the first black woman to give commentary over a major television network.
Kathleen Currie of the Washington Press Club Foundation interviewed Ms. Payne for an oral history project because of the prominent role she has played in the black press. During the interview Ms. Payne emphasized that her career has meant a life of activism and that she regards herself as a descendant of the black newspaperman and activist, Frederick Douglas. According to Ms. Currie, She frequently quoted Douglass’ admonition to “agitate, agitate, agitate.”
She was the fifth of six children born to a homemaker mother, and a Pullman porter father. Their family was part of the great migration to the north and settled on the Southwest side of Chicago. When they first arrived, at the turn of the century, Englewood was a mixed community but gradually changed and became predominantly black. She describes it as “sort of an island in the midst of a white sea.” Her father died when she was 12-years-old. Her mother took in boarders to their large house in order to support the family.
Her mother was a devout and religious woman and a strong advocate of reading aloud some of the classics. This was before radio or television came along. Early on, her mother discovered that Ethel had a flair for words and writing and encouraged her to write. Her high school, Lindblom, was all white with a few blacks. Once she left the boundary of Englewood, she was taunted on her way to and from school. Although this affected her study habits, she says “I had one outstanding thing: I was excellent in English.”
Ms. Dixon, her English teacher, saw something in her as well, and asked her to write essays and short stories. One of those stories about folk life ended up in the high school newspaper. She says “that was quite an achievement.” Ms. Dixon told her that her hand writing (which wasn’t that good), reminded her of another star pupil she had, Ernest Hemingway. “I was flattered by the fact that she would compare my writing to Ernest Hemingway.”
Her ambition was to become a lawyer to defend the rights of poor people but she never thought about becoming a journalist or a writer. After the death of her father, she and her sisters decided that they would pool their money and send their youngest sister to college. Payne went on to Crane Junior College and a series of jobs, most of which she found boring. While working at the Chicago Public Library she became known as an activist and leader in the community.
The Illinois Human Rights Commission heard of her civic activity and asked her to join. She was in her late teens and their youngest member. Her desire was to be a lawyer but the University of Chicago Law School was not accepting black applicants and her grades were not up to par. Her mother kept reminding her that she had a talent for writing. Eventually she would begin taking night courses at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Some of the stories that she wrote for her creative writing classes would be submitted to the Crisis magazine of the NAACP and the Opportunity magazine of the National Urban league.
After World War II, the Red Cross advertised for hostesses for the Army Special Services in Japan. It was the perfect opportunity for her to travel and pursue her adventurous side. During her three years there, she would write about all the things she witnessed in the segregated unit. Alex Wilson, a writer for the Chicago Defender, was one of the correspondents that came through her camp. He was to cover the Korean Conflict and asked Payne for her permission to share her notes. “The next thing I knew, the Defender had emblazoned this headline all across… the headline said, GIs Abused, Amused, and Confused.”
Although the people back home knew about what was going on in Germany and Korea, they didn’t know about the GIs and Japanese women and they didn’t know that General MacArthur was rigidly enforcing segregation against President Truman’s directive to integrate the troops. The articles created enormous sales for the Defender and created isolation for Payne. She was assigned to command headquarters as a secretary, left alone. While there, she received a call from Louis Martin, editor-in-chief of the Defender who said “Come on home. We’ve got a job for you.”
Martin would give her carte blanche to come up with and write about whatever she wanted. Her first story was a series on the crisis in the adoption of brown babies. It was submitted to the Illinois Press Association and won first place. The second story “Industry, USA: Where the Jobs Were,” got her a Heywood Broun Memorial Citation and solidified her place as a lead person in the newsroom.
Payne’s restless streak prompted Martin to honor her request to travel the south to do stories on; the changing patterns of the south, what was happening since the anti-lynching laws had been passed, were segregated schools being improved and was the “separate but equal” doctrine working. She went back to Chicago with six articles on her impressions. While in the south, she received an offer to write for the Oklahoma Eagle. Martin offered her a chance to be the Washington Correspondent for the Defender.
Payne was one of three black journalists who were part of the White House Press Corps. With the help of contacts, and Clarence Mitchell Jr., Director of the Washington Bureau and chief lobbyist for the NAACP, she would cover many of the legislative and judicial battles taking place on Capitol Hill, particularly as it related to Civil Rights. Her first question to President Eisenhower: “Were you aware of the incident that the Howard University Choir was turned away from the Lincoln Day Celebration?” In his answer, he stated that he was not aware of it and apologized for any discrimination involved. This gained Payne the spotlight from the national media. After conferring with Mitchell they agreed interstate travel would be her second question to the president: “When can we expect that you will issue an executive order ending segregation in interstate travel?” President Eisenhower was angered and she suffered harassment by Press Corps officers. However, Payne believed that that incident helped the movement. “From that time on, civil rights was moved to the front burner. Suddenly civil rights began to be a big issue.” Paine went on to write national and international stories into the 1980s. She died in 1991 and honored with her face on a stamp in 2003.
“Where Beauty Touches Me” is the name of a book by Pamela Ferrell, co-proprietor of Cornrows & Company.
Three years ago, I wrote an essay titled, “Good Hair.” The jumping off point was a movie titled “Good Hair” starring Chris Rock. While the movie was hilarious, there were some awful truths to be considered. The very first thought that came to me was that ‘Black women will pay, astonishingly, to have the hair of another culture, because they hate their own hair.” The price of self-hate could be losing one’s own hair and/or purchasing someone else’s hair at a ridiculous price, including; fake or human and/or animal hair (horse tails), to have long flowing hair. People of other nationalities will get into the fray just to make money off of the fact that black women hate their own hair. Why do we insist on making others rich because of self-hate?
What most people don’t realize is that the Africans in America ‘hair issues’ date back to the time of bondage and was talked about from the beginning of our ordeal here to present day. In the book “We Are Your Sisters, Black Women in the Nineteenth Century,” two commentators lament the ‘community belief’ that “White is Beautiful.” Writing for Frederick Douglass’ Paper in 1853 William J Wilson said’, “We despise, we almost hate ourselves, and all that favors us. Well may we scoff at black skin and woolly heads, since every model set before us for admiration, has a pallid face and flaxen head.” In the Anglo-African Magazine in 1859, Martin H. Freeman wrote, “…flat noses must be pinched up. Kinky hair must be subjected to a straightening process ….or cut off so short that it can’t curl, sometimes the natural hair is shaved off and its place supplied by a straight wig.”
Mom used to pinch my nose time and again, and I always wondered why, until one day, I saw this beautiful little black girl on the bus. She had naturally straight black hair and although darker complexion than I, she had alkaline features. At that time, my nose was bandaged up because I had just come from the doctor’s office because of nose bleeds. In my opinion, I looked hideous when looking at this girl. Although my hair was naturally tight curled, you couldn’t tell because of the way it was done, mom’s hair was semi-straight and reached her lower back. I wasn’t so lucky.
My prayer of finding someone who could teach me how to take care of my own “natural hair” was answered. One day while going for a walk I came across a storefront called “Cornrows,” just around the corner from where I lived. I was just about to pass it by, thinking that they were selling cornrow wigs, when I noticed women getting their hair done. I stopped, went inside. The first thing I noticed was that there was no chemical smell. I engaged the person at the front desk in conversation. He, Taalib- Din , introduced me to his wife, Pamela Ferrell. The rest is history.
The following is an interview with co-owner of Cornrows & Co. and master natural hairstylist, Pamela Ferrell:
Q. When did you begin natural hair styling and under what circumstances did you begin.
I began braiding in 1978. Although, I am a product of the sixties and the Afro hair style. In the early 70’s I would cornrow the hair of my brother’s friends so that they could wear their hair in a blowout Afro. I didn’t braid for money, I did it to hang around with all the cute guys.
I came to Washington, DC in June of 1977, I was 18 years old. I came across the first braiding art gallery, Miya Gallery which was across the street from a button shop that I was going to. I saw this woman up high in a picture window braiding hair, fine intricate braids that she was putting these beads on the ends. I had never seen a sight like that before, I was just mesmerized because it was just a work of art. I went in and met Margo the braider. Her schedule was booked for months, so I bought beads and did my own hair until I could get my appointment with her.
March of 1978 in less than a year’s time, while I was in college I work at G Street Remnant Shop a fabric store. I was working there because I was interested in fashion design. I was fired from that job because of my braided hairstyle. They told me my hair wasn’t appropriate for their clientele. Seriously, I worked in a fabric store. It was an African American woman the manager who told me. First, I was mad at her but then I said, no, she’s just delivering a message. She said to me, “the owner said your hair is inappropriate for the clientele.” So I told her, tell him to tell me. And the next day he did. He told me that “if I wanted to continue working there, I would have to take my braid style out” because it was not appropriate for his clientele. Of course, that didn’t make sense to me because his clientele older white Jewish women said they loved my braided hair style. They complimented my hairstyle. It really didn’t make any sense. I had spent hours doing it and used turquoise and silver beads. I spent a lot of money on those beads. There was just no way I was taking my braids out. But I was really hurt by it. And so, when that happened, I remember gathering my belongings, my boyfriend picked me up from work, I got in the car and just cried. I cried because I knew it wasn’t right, but what could I do? As I look back, I stood up for what I believed was right, and that was not to take my hair out. I had decided at that point, I was going to braid so many heads, that this would never happen to anyone else again. That’s how I started braiding hair.
Q. You guys opened the store front?
I met Taalid-Din in 1979 and I was braiding out of my apartment, I had a three-bedroom apartment. One of the rooms I turned into this little braiding boutique. He had a 24-hour Health food grocery store First Stop. He was the one that encouraged me to open a storefront, and he named it “Cornrows & Co.” One day while he was at my apartment it was busy wih people laughing and talking so forth and so on. The phone rang, and he answers the phone and he says “Cornrows,” and he looked around and he saw all these people, “and & Company.” And so, that’s how “Cornrows & Co.“ came about.
Q. What two things, would you say, enabled you to grow your business? ()
I had so many clients that I just couldn’t do everyone. So, I trained other young women to help me. And you have to remember, back then hairstyles took 8, 10, 12 hours. I could only do one person a day which made my schedule booked for months. To try and meet the demand, I trained my cousin, brought her up from Rhode Island, and she helped also that’s why I started training other girls. The timing was good because there weren’t any other braiding salons, not really.
Q. Was it that people were more interested in natural hair care? What was it?
I think two things. One, we created a space where people could come and have their hair done in a professional, safe, enriching environment. Prior to that, you either went to people’s homes, but even when I was doing it out of my home, I had a designated room. I wasn’t doing it in the kitchen. Two, the braid hair styles were new and different. It wasn’t about natural hair care it was the styles and then natural hair care came later. Just like you said, you walked by and was drawn in when you saw that we were doing people’s hair. That was the idea. If you saw it, you were going to want it, good quality work and beautiful braid styles. And my styles were distinct, different from what other people were doing. I think that really helped to grow the business.
Q. What were people coming from then? What were the styles they were moving from into Cornrows?
A lot of people were doing braids with extensions. Someone whose been coming to you for two years, constantly getting their hair braided now have grown a massive head of natural hair. So, then we can take them into styles using their own hair, still braids but fine, intricate, close braids, using their natural hair. We moved into twisting the hair and again, still working with natural hair. What I found was people would wear braids with extensions for long periods of time, then their hair would grow really long, and they decide to change my style and go and relax it or straighten it. So that wonderful head of natural hair that we grew out they would ruin it and then come back to get it braided. What I recognized was, “I don’t want to work on damaged hair. Don’t be coming to me as if I am a repair shop.” I want to be able to work on nice, healthy, thick, hair. I can really create on that kind of pallet.
Q. What does chemicals do to the hair?
What chemicals do to the hair is destroy it. The chemical, sodium hydroxide, is a caustic acid, so when you put it on your hair it literally melts the hair. That is why it’s able to take it from a curly pattern and make it permanently straight. I would say to people, “it’s like cooking pasta, once you put that pasta in hot water, ain’t no going back.” It destroys hair.
Q. The idea of “hating our selves” goes back to the 19th century. Do we want to look like who we are not?
You’ve got to remember, we weren’t born disliking our hair, and our skin and our sex. This was put upon us. When we were captured and enslaved and brought here to America, in order to dehumanize us, they had to make us feel less than. Also, during those conditions we weren’t able to do hair. Hair styles that we we’re doing in Africa were time consuming. You did those in a loving, relaxing, nurturing environment. That wasn’t the kind of environment we were in. They worked you from sun up to sun down. “You ain’t had time to do no hair.” Your hair became matted under those scarfs, and yes, it was bad hair. Not that it was bad, growing hair it was bad hair because it was uncared for. Even in Africa today, when you look at parts of Africa, where they have been colonized you will see the same behaviors. You will see women looking other than what they are, wearing long straight wigs. I say “uglifying” themselves. That was all done by design. You can even go to parts of Africa where they have not been colonized, where they have not been infiltrated with other people’s beauty standards,
unlike the Khoisan tribe in West Africa and the Maasia tribe in East Africa, they are still wearing their hair in natural, traditional styles.
Q. One of the things you’ve been able to do, since opening Cornrows & Co., is get into the “politics of hair,” how did that come about?
You have to remember, the politics started when that white man fired me because of my hair. That’s when it became political. For me, it was just a work of art, it was beautiful, it was who I was, but he made it political. That started this movement to protect African and African American women’s Constitutional right to braid hair in the US.
Q. What are your successes in the political arena, here in the District, in the airline industry, the military?
In the beginning, women were being faced with the same thing that I had faced, losing their jobs because of their braided hairstyles.
And so, what we did, we challenged and changed grooming policies. It wasn’t easy. We had to fight, protest, file EEOC lawsuits,
but we were successful and we were able to get grooming policies changed at the Hyatt Regency, the Marriott Corp., American Airlines, Avis Rent-A-Car, UPS, the District of Columbia Police Department, the Smithsonian Police Department in 1993 the United States Navy, recently, in 2014 the US Army, and the list goes on we were also successful with the help of the Institute for Justice in exempting hair braiders from cosmetology and barber laws. We were successful in doing that. Now, is the job finished? “No.” because as long as we are racism exist we are going to be challenged when we try to express our natural selves. Once you become free to be who you are, you become free in your head, too. When you experience freedom, you are free to wear your hair this way. Perhaps the concern is What other freedoms you’re gonna want? This society has to maintain control over you and one thing I can tell you, if they control your hair, they control you.
“Good Hair” is the title of Chris Rock’s movie on black hair. Even before this movie was made I would often think back to when my cousins and I would cover our heads with cardigan sweaters. The sweaters were long sleeves and buttoned up the front. The neck portion would surround the hair line. Once they were securely on the head, we would swing our heads back and forth so that our “hair” would sway and swing from shoulder to shoulder. Just imagine three little black girls wearing blue, green and pink sweaters on their heads giggling and swinging their heads. Little did I know then that this act was the result of self-hate. Although back then it was fun and created much laughter.
In the late sixties, I became weary of straightening and then processing my hair. If you had any awareness of self in the sixties you had to wear a bush. I had my hair shaved off to almost bald so that I could grow my bush. After a few years, I decided to go back to processing my hair. Soon after getting onto a professional track I was at the pinnacle of shoulder length, black hair that swayed with every movement of my head or a brisk wind. However, whenever the natural growth would begin to show, I had to go get “nuked”. Enough is enough.
One day, I walked in to my hair salon that reeked of chemicals and women all seated, some being served others waiting to be served. I began to think, “I’m really tired of this”. When it was my turn to sit in the chair and my hair stylist asked me what I wanted to do, I said with no hesitation, “Cut it all off”. She immediately said, “You’re not coming back!” When she finished, it looked as if someone had cut my hair with a broken lawn mower. I prayed that God would lead me to a salon that could teach me how to care for my natural hair. He answered my prayer. In a professional setting, back in the late seventies early eighties, I wore a pick-a-ninny style, very short twists sticking up all over my head. My white female co-workers looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I really didn’t care because I was happy with me, the real me, and I didn’t have to try and be something I am not, WHITE.
Over the years my natural styles have evolved from pick-a-ninny, to professional twists to locks. (They are not dread locks, there’s a difference, look it up.) I can wear them up down, curled, blunt cuts, ANYTHING!! They are half way down my back and I love it. And I don’t have to change the texture to do it. I love having GOOD HAIR.
He’s Eight years old. My youngest grandson is in the 3rd grade. Monday through Thursday Mom or Dad would bring him directly to my house after school. I’ve tutored 4 other grand’s his senior. “Where’s your homework?” This question each of them would get after having a hearty snack or small meal. I’d go through each assignment to see which of them we’d have to do first. The most difficult assignment was on the top of the list. Each third grader was to dress a newspaper doll made at school and “provide a typed paragraph about his/her family’s heritage/culture/history.” The following questions were a guide to writing the paragraph:
“Who in your family was the pilgrim or immigrant? How did that person get here? Why did they come? What did they do when they got here? How was life? What did they bring? What was hard?”
Needless to say, I was floored. There was no way I could have answered those questions in grade school, Junior High or Senior High. I was in a daze for at-least 48 hours. Then it hit me, take him and his brother to The National Great Blacks In Wax Museum in Baltimore. Jon Wilson, Deputy Director of Operations gave us a short tour. It was all I needed to help my grandson finish this project before Christmas break. After the museum visit, we worked diligently for a couple of weeks. Referencing the Museum where he got most, if not all, of his information. He was ready to present.
“No one in my family is a pilgrim or immigrant but they were Africans forced into slavery. Africans did not know why they were forcefully taken to an unknown land. They were chained together and put in the bottom of ships. Sometimes more than 300 people traveled that way for 3 month or more with rats eating Africans who died on the ship. Men were forced to pick 500 pounds of cotton each day, women were forced to pick 250 pounds of cotton each day and children were forced to pick 125 pounds of cotton each day. If they did not do this men would get beaten and women and children would not be fed for two or three days. Also children had to be foot warmers and belly warmers. It was hard working each day from sun up to sun down without being paid and being treated like animals. They brought culture, religion and language but it was beaten out of them. Life was hard sleeping on bare earth and being sold away from parents.
I am a descendant of John Henry Dial. He is my great-great-great grandfather.
He used to live in Birmingham, Alabama. He was the first of my ancestors to be born free. He built his own home too.”
Although I had researched and discovered much about slavery in my early adult life, this assignment took me aback. I realize now the importance of educating children, especially those of African descent, about their history.
And you happen to greet him saying, “Good Morning Cleovus”
His reply would be
“I don’t know you.”
New comers would not understand.
And all that KNEW him KNEW that this was his way of greeting you
Or starting a conversation.
What about the sweeping, and cleaning the walkways and front
walks for several blocks in the neighborhood.
What about the cans he’d take out for us,
once emptied and left in the ally,
Cleovus would put them back inside your
yard. Today is Wednesday, trash can pick up day. I forgot to put
my can out. Others forgot as well. The truck was down a ways in
the alley. I caught up with them and informed them about
Cleovus. They told me, Cleovus gave them an envelope with a
dollar in it. It was their Christmas gift. If it wasn’t for his
The neighborhood would look and smell a little different.
His most productive time was between 6:00AM and 9:00AM.
Monday thru Saturday,
Summer, Winter, Spring and Fall.
I’m talking, at least 20 years or more.
He never asked for a dime, although many neighbors and I
would hand him something. As a thank you gift.
If he knew you well enough, he’d remind you of his birthday.
Two weeks prior – He reminded me EVERY YEAR, “My birthday is
coming up, September 21st, a few days before my son’s birthday.
I’m gonna miss Cleovus. He’s the only person that ever told me
I had pretty legs. AND along with others, he’d say I had – skinny legs.
He encouraged me to walk and missed me when I
didn’t. He’d say “where you been?”
I’m gonna miss Cleovus, not just because he made a difference in how
The neighborhood looked.
But because he was a GOOD person.
As a mother, you can only hope that your
son’s life touches Others in a positive way. And CLEOVUS did that.
Thank you Cleovus. We’re going to miss you CLEOVUS DUNCAN
Cleovus Duncan III was 44 years old and mentally challenged. Despite his mental condition he took it upon himself to keep this neighborhood looking good. He swept sidewalks, front porches and moved trash cans into the ally and back in their yards once emptied. Today Is Wednesday, (Trash Pickup Day), a time of remembrance.