Hair Story Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America

Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

272 Pages



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Two world wars, the Civil Rights movement, and a Jheri curl later, Blacks in America continue to have a complex and convoluted relationship with their hair. From the antebellum practice of shaving the head in an attempt to pass as a "free" person to the 1998 uproar over a White third-grade teacher's reading of the book Nappy Hair, the issues surrounding Black hair continue to linger as we enter the twenty-first century.

Hair Story, now revised and updated, is a historical and anecdotal exploration of Black Americans' tangled hair roots. A chronological look at the culture and politics behind the ever-changing state of Black hair from fifteenth-century Africa to the present-day United States, it ties the personal to the political and the popular.


Praise for Hair Story

"Taps into the art and history of how Black hair is perceived in America in a way that will no doubt be relevant for generations to come."—The Source

"As far as neatly and efficiently chronicling African-Americans and the importance of their hair, Hair Story gets to the root of things."—

"[This book combines] keen historical insight with pop-cultural anecdotes."—Entertainment Weekly

"A comprehensive and colorful look at a very touchy subject."—Essence

"From antiquity to the present day, Black hair has been both ornamentation and a medium of artistic expression. At the same time, its changing political and cultural values have often mirrored the current social climate. Hair Story, in documenting our natural hair's beauty and capacity for communication, brings to life and infuses with historical relevance this unique slice of Americana."—Harriette Cole, author of Jumping the Broom and How to Be

"Hair Story presents an absorbing rendition of American history told through Black hair. In prose that is both humorous and haunting, the authors manage to bring vividly to life a subject most would consider inconsequential. After reading this comprehensive tale, people will walk away with a whole new appreciation for Black hair and all of its wonder and power."—Lloyd Boston, author of Men of Color: Fashion, History, Fundamentals

"[An] entertaining and concise survey . . . A book that successfully balances popular appeal with historical accuracy."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


Black Hair in Bondage: 1400–1899

The Story Starts in Africa
The story of Black people's hair begins where everything began—in Africa. Not surprisingly, the birthplace of both astronomy and alchemy also gave...

Read the full excerpt


  • Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps

  • Ayana D. Byrd graduated from Barnard College and is the co-editor of Naked: Black Women Bare All About Their Skin, Hair, Hips, Lips and Other Parts. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, as well as magazines including Glamour, Essence and Rolling Stone. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

    Lori L. Tharps is an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University. A graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, she is also the author of the memoir Kinky Gazpacho: Life, Love & Spain. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

  • Ayana Byrd
  • Lori Tharps