Relaxers to Afro Sheen and Relaxers Again: Who stole the soul?

afro sheen

Beautiful people use Afro Sheen! That slogan really takes me back. It reminds me of an era when we took more pride in our appearance. The seventies was a period of cultural awareness, soul music, social revolution, and the almighty afro! Don’t believe me? Check out this Soul Train clip! Black folks have been experimenting with their hair for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians braided, gelled and dyed, wore extensions and pieces, and were very conscious of their hair styles. Hairstyles were always a reflection of our culture. As the centuries passed and Africans began to have a greater interaction with Non-Africans, the images and conceptions of what beauty was began to change. The natural ways we wore our hair were no longer seen as beautiful. As we began to assimilate into European culture(via the slave trade), the values and standards of beauty we once held quickly changed. Black was not beautiful . It was different. It was ugly. Our blackness and anything representative of our blackness was seen as a sign of our inferiority. No longer were we proud of our appearance. We knew that to find success in this country, we would have to shed as much of our blackness as possible. Our braids came out and our hair became straightened. We started to hate our naturally “nappy” hair in favor of straight European hair called “good” hair. Spike Lee addresses this contentious idea in his film “School Daze” with a memorable dance scene. One only has to take a trip back through the fifties and sixties and see the number of black men wearing permed or processed hair styles to prove this point. Check out a couple of examples below.

The Temptations

The Temptations

Young Malcolm X

Young Malcolm X

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

However, the seventies saw a change in this attitude. The struggle for Civil Rights gave many blacks a renewed sense of dignity and pride. Along with this renewed sense of self, companies began cashing in on this reclamation of black beauty. Enter Afro Sheen!

George E. Johnson Sr George E. Johnson, Sr. was born in Richton, MS in a three room sharecroppers shack. He borrowed $250 from a bank and another $250 from a friend and launched a hair care products company that would eventually become the first African-American company to be listed on the American Stock Exchange. Johnson was a marketing genius and it should be noted that before he launched the Afro Sheen line of products, he began by launching a revolutionary hair straightener called “Ultra Sheen” in 1957. When the Afro hairstyle became popular he launched his Afro Sheen line of products. This product became immensely popular in the black community especially when Johnson became the exclusive sponsor for the nationally syndicated show “Soul Train”. This soulful partnership led to some of the most beloved and culturally marketed commercials the black community has ever seen. Check out this Afro Sheen commercial and see what I’m talking about.

These commercials, though created to sell a product, instilled a sense of pride. The same swagger that was seen on the streets of Black America was being presented on television for all to see. But alas, time passed and the revolutionary spirit of the seventies started to die down. The political and social demands of the sixties and seventies were being met and blacks were being integrated into the workforce in record numbers. With this integration came a waning interest in maintaining these tangible symbols of cultural affirmation. We began to see fewer Afros and more relaxers. Hair became straighter and straighter as the eighties approached. The tone of the commercials changed to reflect this new mentality. Black hair care products now stressed the need for “manageable” hair. Sounds a lot like the good and bad hair arguments huh? The afro eventually went the way of the eight track tape. In its place was relaxed hair, Jheri Curls, and a desire for hair with “good” texture.  I miss the old days of the ‘Fro. I firmly believe any black child born during the seventies has at least one family picture sporting an afro. I know I do. However, it should be mentioned that the afro wasn’t just relegated to the black community. I recall Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience having one of the best afros around! It was more than a hairstyle. It was a statement of self. A bold declaration of cultural identity. Advertisers were keenly aware of this and cashed in while they could. As a historian, I look at many different aspects of the past. I have learned that there is much to learn by studying popular culture of the past. History is much more than books and stories of old war heroes. Music, fashion, hairstyles, and yes commercial advertising are all great ways to get your finger on the social and political pulse of a community. At the bottom of this post, I have embedded one of my youtube playlist of various commercials that chart the movement from Afro Sheen to relaxed and curled styles. So sit back and take a journey through time and see if you remember any of these! In the words of Soul Train’s late host Mr. Don Cornelius “Peace, Love, and Souuuuuuuuuuuuuul!”


The following playlist has 21 videos and is about 15 minutes in length






10 thoughts on “Relaxers to Afro Sheen and Relaxers Again: Who stole the soul?

  1. Pingback: Fourth World Radyo: Articulating Afro-Diasporic Colonialism With Chris Williams | APNS Public Radyo

  2. this is very fascinating. thanks for which. we need much more sites this way. i commend you on your excellent content and ideal topic alternatives.

  3. @Jenson- Thanks alot my friend! Your kind words mean more than you realize. I try to do unconventional topics and not pigeonhole myself. If you ever have a topic that you would to see just let me know! Thanks again!

  4. Hi I’m TV and Film college student actually writing a paper on precisely what you discuss here about the importance for television production in terms industrial and cultural significance. I’ve selected The Johnson Company’s relationship with Soul Train in particular to center this argument. I was wondering if you could pass along the the sources and bibliographic info that you used for this article. It’s perfect 🙂

  5. Hi Jasmin. Thanks for reading the post! Here are a couple places to start:
    3) “George Johnson Biography. Interview December 18, 2003” (The History Makers)
    4) “Passing the Baton” (Johnson Products Media, 2010);

    I wish you all the best in your studies!

    • Thank you Hunter! Your kind words truly came at a time when I needed to hear them. I have some great stuff I’ll be posting soon so stay tuned!

  6. Pingback: Richard Pryor- 1st Black President | Cookie's Jam

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