Willie Lee Morrow, a son of Alabama sharecroppers who constructed a enterprise empire round hair care merchandise aimed toward African American shoppers, amongst them a comb designed to work with the pure kinds that exploded in reputation within the Nineteen Sixties — a device he referred to as the Afro Tease, however which got here to be generally known as the Afro decide — died on June 22 at his dwelling in San Diego. He was 82.
His daughter Cheryl Morrow mentioned the trigger was pneumonia.
Mr. Morrow was already a profitable barber on the east aspect of San Diego when a household good friend, Robert Bell, walked into his store in 1962. Mr. Bell had simply returned from learning in Nigeria, and he introduced Mr. Morrow a present: a standard wood comb, with lengthy, stiff tines spaced nicely aside, meant to tease out curly hair.
Mr. Morrow had by no means seen something prefer it, however it couldn’t have landed in his palms at a greater time. For generations, many Black folks had seen their naturally kinky hair as a legal responsibility, and both trimmed it near the scalp or straightened it, typically utilizing painfully caustic chemical substances to take action.
But the civil rights motion produced a era of younger Black folks keen to say their freedom from oppressive aesthetics. Natural hair was changing into as a lot a political assertion as a method selection, a bodily expression of the rising Black Power ethos.
The blowout, later generally known as the Afro, turned the dominant model. But it introduced a brand new problem to barbers like Mr. Morrow.
“The Afro caught everybody off guard,” he advised Ebony journal in 1970. “Even Black barbers and beauticians in America were caught lacking the knowledge as well as the desire to style a decent Afro.”
An inveterate innovator, Mr. Morrow spent years engaged on his decide design, at first making wood picks at the back of his store earlier than he landed on a plastic model that could possibly be mass produced. Eventually he had seven fashions, considered one of them a blow-dryer attachment, and he was promoting about 12,000 picks every week.
Based on his rising popularity, the Department of Defense contracted with him in 1969 to coach its 1000’s of barbers and beauticians to work with Black hair.
“Until fairly recently, the Black person was self-conscious about his curly, kinky hair,” he advised The New York Times in 1971. “He or she would spend a fortune trying to take the curl out. That made it easy for the military. They would simply run the clippers closely over a Negro’s head — no problem at all.”
Over the following few years, Mr. Morrow logged tens of 1000’s of miles visiting bases round Asia, Europe and the United States, giving workshops to army and native civilian barbers. He claimed he was the youngest individual ever to log 1,000,000 miles on Delta Air Lines.
Of course, not everybody wished an Afro, even on the top of the Black Power period, and so alongside the decide he developed dozens of different hair care merchandise, lots of them straightening and softening therapies that had been gentler than the traditional chemical substances then in use.
By the mid-Nineteen Seventies he had a product referred to as Tomorrow Curl, which started to take off in 1977 when he modified the identify to California Curl. It gave his prospects’ hair a mushy and glossy look, and just like the decide, it was straightforward to make use of.
Again, his timing was excellent. The Afro was waning in reputation, and younger folks had been in search of a brand new model. But when Mr. Morrow determined to market his product completely to hair care professionals, different corporations moved in. Jheri Redding, one other California hairdresser, reformulated a product he already had in the marketplace for white hair and bought it on to Black shoppers.
By the Eighties, the most popular hair model amongst younger African Americans was the Jheri curl, named for its popularizer if not its inventor.
Willie Lee Morrow was born on Oct. 9, 1939, in Eutaw, Ala., a farming city southwest of Birmingham. His mother and father, Hollie and Olean (Jordan) Morrow, had been sharecroppers, and his father bought bootleg whiskey on the aspect.
Along along with his daughter Cheryl, he’s survived by his spouse, Gloria (Lacy) Morrow, and one other daughter, Angela Morrow. A son, Todd, died earlier than him.
One of eight youngsters, Willie began work at an early age. He later mentioned that after he realized that solely the easiest college students at school had a shot at school, he determined to seek out one other means out of poverty and shortly landed on barbering. He began chopping hair when he was 13.
He moved to San Diego in 1959, a part of a wave of Black Southerners drawn to Southern California’s heat local weather and promise of plentiful jobs.
He attended barber faculty, joined a salon and, when its proprietor determined to retire, purchased him out for $5,000. Soon it was a cornerstone of Black life in San Diego, and Mr. Morrow was the barber of selection for professional athletes, California politicians, musicians and film stars.
“The first time I cut my hair I went to that barbershop and discovered that it was a whole culture, where people would laugh talk, talk about politics, talk about social issues, talk about life,” Starla Lewis, a professor emerita of Black research at San Diego Mesa College, mentioned in a telephone interview. “It was a community for many, many decades.”
Mr. Morrow wrote greater than a dozen books, most of them manuals like “The Principles of Cutting and Styling Negro Hair” (1966), in addition to a historical past, “400 Years Without a Comb” (1973), which traced the story of Black hair care from Africa by way of slavery to the current.
Mr. Morrow later branched out into media. He began San Diego’s first Black-centered radio station in 1979 and a newspaper, The San Diego Monitor, in 1986. He made most of his merchandise subsequent door to his salon, having expanded to take over nearly your complete block, and he employed some 200 folks. A ten-foot Afro decide stood out entrance.
He finally handed over most of his enterprise to his daughter Cheryl, although he continued to come back to work nearly on daily basis — if to not minimize hair, then to putter in his laboratory, at all times in search of one other new concept.