BHM: More than My Hair

To start this year’s Black Herstory Month (BHM) posts, I thought we would keep up the tradition of doing a puzzle of a famous and groundbreaking person.

click image for puzzle

Melba Tolliver was the first black woman to anchor a network news channel. She did so in a 5 minute segment called “News with a Woman’s Touch” centering women’s opinions of key news stories. Unfortunately, that job required Tolliver to cross a week long picket line by broadcast journalists. Though she was already working for the network at the time of the strike, this promotion still made her a scab.

Tolliver has over 30 years of journalism experience and during that time the bulk of her writing has been on women’s issues including breast cancer, covering the Houston Women’s Conference, and the controversy inducing invitation to the White House to cover the Nixon wedding. She also did numerous guest spots and articles addressing race, key black figures, and racial consciousness.

Tolliver is best remembered for the controversy surrounding her hair. In 1967 she made the decision to stop processing her hair just weeks before she was supposed the Nixon wedding. Despite having one of the strongest followings on local news, Tolliver was taken off the air until she either processed her hair or committed to covering it with a hat or a scarf. Her refusal sparked national conversation about black female beauty and the offensive stereotypes and racist stereotypes surrounding the enforcing of straight hair as good hair in our society that cast black women with natural hair as ugly, barbaric, and unsuited to middle class jobs. Unlike the discourse that surrounds hair now, the conversation hinged on the idea that this hair hatred did not come from within the black female community but rather from colonialism turned post-slavery economic and sexual policing of black women and that internalization of these stereotypes was a direct result of survival techniques in the black community that understood that white employers with middle class job openings were only willing to hire women with processed hair in the most blatant version of liberal bigotry which had white people hiring black people against the unspoken proscriptions but only if they “didn’t make them uncomfortable” just like today.

While the Tolliver hair controversy helped increase conversations about black as beautiful, encouraged women to embrace the features they were born with and celebrate them, it also overshadowed Tolliver’s journalism career. Despite her tremendous body of work and her firsts as a black female journalist, she is often still reduced to her hair.

You can read more about Tolliver at Heats Up! and The Maynard Institute or read her blog Accidental Anchorwoman

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