Embracing Black Identity

The phrase “Black is beautiful” came to mean an embrace of African American culture and identity in the 1960s. While the movement affirmed natural hair and a variety of skin colors, it also called for reflection and celebration of Black history and achievement. This arose out of Black nationalism and focused on emotional well-being and the beauty and strength of Black life.

 

 

 

Image credit: Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Archives

 

 

I came into adulthood at a time when “black is beautiful” was the expression and it set a tone for my generation in terms of those of us who were politically active, in terms of how we view ourselves and how we view each other. Using the terms brother and sister is still something I do.

—Charlotte Rutherford, community organizer and civil rights lawyer

Four generations of Rutherford women pose in 1975, from left to right: Verdell, Maggie, Charlotte, and Yasha.

Image credit: Verdell Burdine and Otto Rutherford, PSU Library Special Collections

A child holds a Black autograph book.

Image credit: Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Stokely Charmichael wears a black leather jacket and dashiki. Wearing African-inspired clothing was favored by many who espoused Pan-Africanism—the encouragement of solidarity among all people of African descent.

Image credit: Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries

Dashikis

With bright colors and African-inspired designs, dashikis were symbols of Black pride in the early civil rights era.

Image credit: Oregon Black Pioneers

Combs

A popular hairstyle of the 1960s and 70s was the afro, or natural. The wide-toothed comb—or “afro pick”—was used to comb hair into the distinctive style. In contrast, the fine-toothed comb was heated and used to straighten kinky hair.

Image credit: Oregon Black Pioneers