Styling Jim Crow
focuses on the beauty education industry in racially segregated communities from World War I through the 1960s. In this study of two black beauty companies of the Jim Crow era, Julia Kirk Blackwelder looks at the industry as a locus of black entrepreneurial effort and an opportunity for young women to obtain training and income that promised social mobility within the African American community. Blackwelder demonstrates that commerce, gender norms, politics, and culture all intersected inside African American beauty schools of the Jim Crow era. The book centers on Marjorie Stewart Joyner of the Madam C. J. Walker beauty chain and James H. Jemison of the Franklin School of Beauty, two educators who worked throughout their business lives to liberate women from the clutches of racial prejudices. They stood at the helms of enterprises that brought self-reliance and pride of accomplishment to generations of African Americans.
In Blackwelder’s well-documented story and clearly argued analysis, the history of African American beauty education shows how succeeding generations of black women, in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, freed themselves from a life of service to whites and advanced into dignified economic independence though work that they and their clients valued for its intangible worth.