The creator of the Afro pick, a ground-breaking tool for kinky hairstyles, has passed away. Willie Morrow, a barber and hair stylist by trade, was a prominent community stakeholder who held the view that “you should not have to go outside of your own community for the resources and money,” according to his family.
The pick comb inventor, scientist, and novelist Morrow passed away on June 22 in San Diego, California, at the age of 82. According to the Los Angeles Times, the businessman was fortunate to spend his final moments surrounded by loved ones.
The Afro pick, which Morrow invented, revolutionized hair care, as many people are aware. Few people know, though, that he also invented the California curl, a curly perm that came before the Jheri Curl.
Additionally, he invented the first blow dryer attachment comb and the first Eze-Teze hair styling comb with utility patents.
He was able to promote the instrument and the style thanks to his barbering skills and his connections in the Black and brown community.
In an interview, his daughter Cheryl Morrow described how philanthropic Morrow was.
She says that her father taught her by telling her, “We are the boot. We didn’t need straps, just as long as they fit, I’m walking.”
Morrow provided Black people with “the tools they needed to do their hair in the way they chose to do it,” according to Shane Harris, the founder of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, after his death. He also made a concerted effort to alter Americans’ perceptions about natural Black hair as being untidy or unprofessional.
Morrow was described as the “embodiment of the promise of America” in an email from state assemblywoman Akilah Weber (D-San Diego).
He was raised in the South by a sharecropper family and, according to Weber’s eulogy, “created a multi-million dollar haircare business and media empire through hard work and his own inventiveness. He adopted his neighborhood and developed into the unique and irreplaceable Black art and artifacts’ defender.”
The community leader continued to tout his commitment to the success of those around him, saying, “He opened his doors to young entrepreneurs and shared the invaluable lessons not only of achieving success but of starting over and rebuilding from scratch. He will be remembered for his many inventions and connection to the curl phenomenon and for his devotion to family.”
This 1939-born sharecropper’s son from Alabama transitioned from the world of hair care into the media, where he owned and oversaw the radio station XHRM and the San Diego Monitor-News from 1977 until 1990.
He made the decision to move to California in search of a new life when he left Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1959, during the height of the Jim Crow era.
Cheryl Morrow described her father’s adventure when he was 18 years old, saying that he rode a Greyhound bus to San Diego with a paper bag lunch of fried chicken and pound cake as well as a suitcase containing a suit and a shirt.
Nearly 2,000 miles away, he knew he would still run into racism, but he had a plan.
“My dad took advantage of the fact that San Diego had been dubbed the Mississippi of the West. For my father, it was about economics,” she revealed. “That’s how he dealt with racism.”
“My dad said that San Diego’s racism allowed him to become the best barber in the city, the state, the nation, and eventually the entire globe,” she continued. He had the chance to focus on what his people needed because of racism. He used economics as a means of dealing with racism rather than using force; instead, he built things.
He once told her, “My job was to be so good, and so awesome, I would become racism proof,” she recalled.
For many Black people from the South, including her father, Cheryl Morrow told The San Diego Union-Tribune, “San Diego became home because of military service and jobs.”
The daughter, who is currently the CEO of California Curl, says that her father informed her that he chose the city because of its reputation.
I was anxious to try my ideas and vision in a city I had read was the Harlem of the West,’ he told his daughter.
“My father recognized an opportunity to prosper by meeting the beauty requirements of African American military people as well as citizens,” she stated. He turned a Black hair care company into a tech-design industrial giant.”
Morrow was employed by the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1970s to teach barbering classes and offer hair services to soldiers stationed in the city of Southern California.
After working for the military, he began a second career as a writer of books on hair styling and care. Some of these books include “400 Years Without a Comb: The Untold Story” and “Curly Hair: A Specialized Text on Styling the Natural Afro and Straight Hair.”
Morrow first met Gloria while residing in San Diego; she later became his wife of 56 years and the mother of his two daughters.
“Thank you, San Diego, for giving an Alabama boy the reality of dreams fulfilled,” Cheryl stated. “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.”