Welcome to Wambui Stories - 70 Years and Beyond!
Sept. 6, 2021

Straighten Your Hair!?

Straighten Your Hair!?

Wambui talks about her hair - from the straitening or straighten hot comb to afro and many things in between. She shares the story of when two students showed up at her high school one day in the late 60's with un-straitened or natural hair and what the reaction was. 

"Every now and then I got an ear, burnt - nothing too badly, though, but I did get a burns on my ear sometimes and sometimes a little burn on my neck. But that was that was a big deal when I think about the fact that somebody had this thing in their hand.

You don't know how hot it is. And they're saying, come here, let me straighten your hair. I know when I was little, we always wanted to have straight hair. We want it straight here. And I guess that was because we were seeing images on the TV.

Those of us that had a TV could see images of the TV and in movies and magazines of women with the straight hair. The Caucasian women had straight hair. And so we want it straight hair, too. We wanted to be able to make those ponytails and make curls and just have be able to flip it like that.

Chemical straightening was not really part of I didn't know anybody who got it wasn't a thing back in the fifties and sixties. Not in my community. Chemical straightening, but we use royal crown of jelly. It was a there was a a grease, I guess you would call it grease, but your hair called Royal Crown.

That's what we used. It was it came in a red jar, had a red label that looked pretty like it was royal, had a crown on it, had a silver top. It's called Royal Crown. And so we will put that on our hair.

And then my mother would straighten our hair. And so these two girls showed up at my school and they had Afros. Now, I didn't see them to this day. I wish I had seen them, but I was hearing about it.

I mean, it went. It just spread all over the school. Oh, my God. And they would call their name. Oh, my God. They came to school with Afros. They didn't straighten their hair. And this was in sixty five or sixty six.

I graduated in sixty eight. So I'm thinking it's somewhere around sixty six, maybe sixty seven. And the news just spread like wildfire. Oh, my God. They showed up at school and they did not have their hair straightened. That was a big deal because we didn't know what where that went, where that fit in any place.

And so I don't think they were not suspended, to my knowledge. But they were sent home and told they couldn't come back until they straighten their hair. And and we're talking about a black school. But it was in the 60s and nobody knew how that fit in to where that was supposed to go.

So nobody was sure what to do with that. My sister, who was at Howard University, came home for Christmas break and she had an afro. And I just was like, she was my hero. I was so impressed. Oh, my God, how brave you are not to straighten your hair.

And I just I just thought it was pretty amazing. I didn't know if I was brave enough to do that, but I just thought, wow, my sister's got guts. And and she had an afro. And I remember my mother saying to her, you know, you can't go to church unless you straighten your hair .  . ."

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Transcript

Every now and then, I got an ear burnt. Nothing too bad, though, but I did get burns on my ears sometimes and sometimes a little burn on my neck. But that was a big deal. When I think about the fact that somebody had this thing in their hand, you don't know how hot it is, and they're saying, "Come here, let me straighten your hair."

When I was little, we always wanted to have straight hair. I guess that was because we were seeing images on the TV. Those of us that had a TV could see images of the TV and in movies and magazines of women with straight hair. The Caucasian women had straight hair. So we wanted straight hair too. We wanted to be able to make those ponytails and make curls and just be able to flip it like that.

Chemical straightening was not really part of... I didn't know anybody who got... It wasn't a thing back in the 50s and 60s; not in my community, but we used Royal Crown jelly. There was a grease for your hair called Royal Crown. That's what we used.  It came in a red jar, had a red label that looked like it was royal. It had a crown on it, had a silver top. It's called Royal Crown. We would put that on our hair and then my mother would straighten our hair. 

These two girls showed up at my school and they had Afros. Now, I didn't see them. To this day, I wish I had seen them, but I was hearing about it. It just spread all over the school and they would call their name, "Oh, my God! They came to school with Afros. They didn't straighten their hair!"  This was in '65 or '66\. I graduated in '68 so I'm thinking it's somewhere around '66, maybe '67\. The news just spread like wildfire, "Oh, my God! They showed up at school and they did not have their hair straightened!"

That was a big deal because we didn't know where that went, where that fit in any place. They were not suspended, to my knowledge, but they were sent home and told they couldn't come back until they straightened their hair. And we're talking about a black school, but it was in the 60s and nobody knew how that fit into where that was supposed to go. Nobody was sure what to do with that. 

My sister, who was at Howard University, came home for Christmas break. She had an Afro and she was my hero. I was so impressed, "Oh, my God, how brave you are not to straighten your hair!" I just thought it was pretty amazing. I didn't know if I was brave enough to do that, but I just thought, "Wow, my sister's got guts." 

She had an Afro and I remember my mother saying to her, "You know you can't go to church unless you straighten your hair? You're not going to go to church with hair like that," or something like that. What that did for me was change my whole outlook on church. I'm like, "You can't go to church unless you straighten your hair?"

Because I was going away and perms were becoming a thing, chemical relaxers, she let me get my hair relaxed. I remember I had this little kit that had little rollers all over it and you would heat it up. In the morning, you would put these hot rollers in your hair, and then when you took them out, you'd have curls. I was over the moon. You couldn't tell me nothing. 

So, that's what I took with me when I went to New York University. Now, it was in 1968\. I just loved waking up in the morning in my dorm and doing my hair with these hot rollers. 

Then people on the campus, a lot of them who I found out later didn't even really go to the school, but there were these guys and girls that would come around. They would say to me, "Sister, when are going to get a fro? "Sister, when are you going to stop straightening your hair?" And it was really annoying because I thought I looked good.

I'm sure I stood out because I wore matching clothes. I was into that. I was into looking nice—what I thought was nice. I thought my curls were nice and that I looked nice. But there were people at my campus that were saying stuff like, "Girl, you need to get a fro." "When are you going to get a fro?" "Why are you wearing your hair like that?"

I don't know if I allowed them to wear me down because even in my younger days, I was pretty stubborn. If you told me to do something, that meant I wasn't going to do it. But I believe that at some point, I decided it was something that I wanted to try. And it seemed like less work trying to keep up with the new growth, trying to keep the hair trimmed, and at the same time, trying to keep the curls going.

I think it was a decision that I made that it was something that was going to work better for me. I was very proud of my afro once I got it. A lot of times, I would just cut it down to where it was really short. I liked that look of just really short. It was, again, easier to take care of. 

It was all about hair. Then later, I remember having Jerry curl, California curl, all the curls. I had locs way before. I think it was in the early 80s that I started locing my hair. At that time, there weren't a lot of people locing their hair and total strangers thought it was okay to come up to me and say, "Girl, you need to straighten your hair." 

What is funny to me is that some of the people who were actually telling me that or who thought that people telling me that was a good thing, now they've got locs. 

Oh, my God, Dippity-do was this green kind of gooey stuff that looked like jello. The idea was you could, take your straightened hair, put it somewhere, put some Dippity-do where you wanted to pin it down. Then when you moved the pin, your hair would be stuck there from the Dippity-do.

A lot of times people will say, "Why are you ashamed of your natural hair, sister?"  And I'm like, I'm not ashamed. It just got a little thin in the top and that wasn't the look I was going for. So until further notice, then I'ma probably rock this wig.