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With deep roots, hair is part of history for many African Americans

4 years 5 months 1 week ago Monday, February 10 2020 Feb 10, 2020 February 10, 2020 10:50 AM February 10, 2020 in News
Source: WBRZ

Whether it is afros, braids, wigs, or curls, at Happy Hair Salon, you can get a new hair do and maybe even a history lesson.

Tonja McMillian, stylist, said, "to understand today's connection to the hair. We have to really understand the history of hair and our people."

“The first black female millionaire was a hairstylist, and this was in the early 1900's. That's power, and that's something that we need to know that history because we come from those roots,” McMillian continued.

Co-owners Tonja Mcmillan and Jacqueline Richardson are teaching their clients not only about hair care, but also about the story their hair tells.

"We have women come in here with the biggest afros, you know. We have women come in here with the most beautiful dreadlocks,” said Richardson.

“It’s all about what keeping what you have neat and beautiful,” she continued.

"Civil Rights Movement was largely supported financially by hairstylists. They paid for the buses that bused the people to the marches,” explained McMillian.

Back in 1786, women of color supported a different movement when the then governor of the Louisiana Territory enacted the Tignon Laws, forcing women of color to wear scarves over their hair, a mark of their enslaved class.

In response, black and creole women used elaborate fabrics and jewels for their headscarves, defying fashion and beauty standards at the time, but the black hair story is not only in the past.

“Even here in 2020. There are people still being discriminated against because of their hair,” said McMillian.

All across the country, African-Americans are fighting for hair freedom and even fighting legal decisions that allow for hair discrimination.

Right here in Louisiana natural hair braiders, like Ashley N'dakpri of Gretna, are in a court battle to continue the practice without requiring a cosmetology license.

“They're not using any perms or dyes or anything like that,” said N’dakpri.

“They’re just braiding, and braiding consists of extensions and your hands, and maybe like a conditioning gel,” she continued.

According to N'dakpri, the policy is an attack on culture and skills that originated in Africa centuries ago.

“They're are trying to make these ladies that are not using chemicals, just using their hands and probably like a edge gel to go to school for 15 hours to learn skills that they'll never use,” she said.

According to State Senator Regina Barrow, braiders -although unique- need to meet the “alternative hair design curriculum” and should meet the same safety and sanitation requirements as state-licensed cosmetologists.

At Happy Hair salon, they are fighting any and all stigmas surrounding black hair.

“We never want to attach a negative connotation to something that we were born with to something that was given to us, to something that we can not change. We can change it chemically, we can alter it but that's who we are,” said McMillian.

For the clients walking into salons looking for a new do, it's all about being happy with your hair.

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