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willie morrow

Source: Courtesy of The New York Times / The Morrow Family

 

A Black hair care pioneer and entrepreneur known for popularizing the Afro pick comb has passed away at 82.

Willie Lee Morrow is now being remembered and celebrated following his death in late June due to pneumonia, as his legacy lives on.   

After moving across country on a Greyhound bus in 1959 and building upon self-taught skills, Morrow opened up an influential barbershop in San Diego, California.

A YouTube video detailing a 2016 museum exhibit on Morrow noted the barbershop and its stronghold as a meeting ground in the community were depicted in an Ernie Barnes painting.

Morrow was inspired to create the Afro Tease — later recognized as the Afro pick — in the 1960s. His idea for the styler came after he was gifted a traditional version of the hair tool by a friend who’d returned from studying abroad in Nigeria.

Morrow also invented another hair tool that’s still widely used today, the hair blow dryer attachment comb. 

Notably, the hairstylist’s line of hair styling products also garnered success.

The Tomorrow Curl, later known as the California Curl, was a cold wave cream that’s technology and results blew up with the popularization of hairstylist Jheri Redding’s the Jheri Curl.

Morrow’s impact as a hairstylist prompted the Department of Defense to invoke his help in training thousands of barbers and beauticians on the art and sciences behind styling Black hair.

Interestingly, the icon’s contract with the governmental agency reportedly led to him becoming Delta Air Lines’ youngest Flying Colonel, with a million sky miles under his belt at the age of 28. 

Morrow was also a well-versed hair historian with a collection of Black hair care memorabilia dating back to slavery.

Additionally, he was an author, media mogul, father and husband of 56 years, according to VIBE.

 

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Remembering The Icon

One of eight children, Morrow was born to Alabama sharecroppers in 1939.

In an op-ed Morrow’s daughter wrote for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cheryl Morrow penned: “Thank you, San Diego, for giving an Alabama boy the reality of dreams fulfilled. Willie L. Morrow, a man whose life needed neither introduction nor exit. The great San Diego craftsman left pieces of himself with his beloved community, memories in the repositories of people’s hearts.” 

The icon’s decades of savviness, inventiveness and ambition ultimately helped him change and shape modern-day Black hair care and styling.

A tribute in Morrow’s honor will be held at The Bayview Church of San Diego on July 15 at 11 AM PST

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