For Isis Brantley, an accomplished African Hair braider in Dallas, Texas, it was just another ordinary day at the salon when the cops showed up at her front door. The mother of five is well-known for her mastery of the skill of African hair braiding, which she learned from her mother. During her sessions, no heat or chemicals were employed; only pure creativity and talent were on display. She had a large clientele, which included Erykah Badu, and had trained around a hundred other people how to do the same thing.
The “new civil rights movement” got its start in 1997, when a gang of undercover cops barged into Brantley’s store and demanded to be let in without being asked.
“Wow, as soon as I opened the door to the business, the red tape was wrapped around my fingers,” she recalled.
“Seven police officers marched into my office in front of my clients and arrested me, hauling me off to jail like a common criminal. A cosmetology license was required for braiding or else it was a crime.”
She was taken into custody before she had a chance to thoroughly understand what this meant for her and her family. She was later released, but she was required to pay an obligatory $600 fine as a result of the incident.
According to reports, Brantley and other African hair braiders were forced to have state licensing in order to perform. This appeared to be a fallacy at the time, but it turned out to be correct. African hair braiders, as well as some other occupations, were required to obtain licenses before they could begin providing services to the public.
In the 1950s, around 5% of all workers, or approximately 70 occupations, were required to obtain licenses. Today, licensing requirements are less stringent. As of 2008, the numbers had skyrocketed, accounting for almost 29 percent of all occupations across all states, which now contain more than 800 occupations in total.
Meanwhile, it has been demonstrated that licensing restrictions “increase the price of goods and services, restrict employment prospects, and make it more difficult for workers to transfer their talents across state lines.”
The state of Texas began regulating hair braiders in 2007, and at the time, “natural hair braiders were grouped in with barbers and cosmetology practitioners, requiring natural hair braiders to attend cosmetology school and finish a 35-hour course on hair braiding.” According to a newspaper, this entailed “paying tuition, attending barber school for 2,250 hours, and passing four examinations.”
As a result, Brantley and the other women in her sector were forced to close their businesses, invest time and money they couldn’t afford to spare in order to “get right with the state,” or find other employment altogether.
Meanwhile, the degrees obtained from these cosmetology schools did not include any instruction on African hair braiding styles like as cornrows, micro braids, and Senegalese twists, which do not require the use of chemicals or heat to braid or preserve them.
After 10 years of campaigning on Brantley’s part, the Texas Legislature passed a statute in 2007 that finally emancipated braiders from the restrictions of needing to work only under state license. Texas, on the other hand, has introduced a 35-hour training requirement for hair braiders.
Brantley believed her legal struggle with the state was ended because she did not require a license to work at the time of the passage of this new statute. She did, however, need to fulfill another criteria in order to be eligible to instruct her kids.
In South Beckley in Dallas, Brantley has been running her shop for about twenty years, which she calls the Institute of Ancestral Braiding.
Brantley’s classes, on the other hand, would no longer be eligible to count toward the 35-hour training requirement for hair braiders in Texas under the new rule.
Because of this, the legislation required her to establish a formal structure with at least “10 chairs that reclined back and a sink behind every work station before she could be permitted teach hair braiding for a business.”
A lawsuit against the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation was filed in 2013 by Brantley in collaboration with The Institute for Justice, a national civil rights law group.
A federal court found in their favor after nearly two years of litigation. In January 2015, the Supreme Court found that regulations for barber schools were unlawful in relation to hair braiding schools.
There was more to the fight than that; the new couple wished to entirely de-regulate the practice of hair braiding in the state of Texas.
Finally, with the passage of HB 2717, they were able to convince both the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate to overwhelmingly decriminalize hair braiding.
In a watershed moment, the bill was signed into law on June 10, 2015, effectively deregulating the practice of natural hair braiding in the state of Texas.
Brantley fought tirelessly to have her passion “liberated” from laws that were unnecessary and simply prevented her and others from providing for their families at the end of the day. She was successful.
According to Brantley, “this lawsuit ‘victory’ signifies economic liberty for my people.” “This is the beginning of our new civil rights movement.”
As Brantley went on to say, “it is the American dream that I want to be a part of.” “Get rid of the red tape. “Assist folks in learning this art and getting to work.”