For AJASS, it was Garvey’s teachings that influenced them to also focus on beauty standards. The 17th of August each year is still known as Marcus Garvey Day, and in Harlem at the time, a ‘Miss Natural Standard of Beauty Contest’ was held to commemorate this. While competitors had to wear their hair naturally to take part, members of AJASS noticed that the winners would often return to straightening their hair once the competition was over, because they had to in order to go back to work. As a group, they felt they needed to do something to change the relationship between black people and their hair, which is how the Grandassa Models, who willingly kept their hair natural year round, were formed.
And, as more Naturally events occurred, and the more musicians such as Nina Simone were seen with similar looks, the more afros were normalised. But, it didn’t come without struggle. “Black women who made the choice to be natural in the late ’50s, early ’60s, definitely suffered all kinds of ridicule and rejection,” says Ford, noting that black beauticians would refuse to style afro hair. “A lot of those women had to either go to black men’s barbers or women like Black Rose, who was a member of the Grandassa Models, [and] had to learn how to barber hair on their own.” It wasn’t until the market grew significantly that beauticians began to educate themselves on natural hair and to create related hair products to sell.