Filed Under Civil Rights

Joyce Moore and the Power of Black Girl Hair

This story takes place in Covington's Holmes High School, the oldest public high school in Kentucky. In October 1969, Principal Richard Williams suspended 10th grader Joyce Moore, age 17 at the time. Not liking Joyce’s "Afro coiffure," he sent her home “until she took her hair down."⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Joyce and her mother Helen told the Kentucky Post-Times Star that Joyce wore an even longer "Afro-style hairdo" to Holmes the prior year without controversy. ⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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The Post's assessment was that “Joyce's Afro is not extreme. It's average length, and her hair is light brown. Joyce is an exceptionally attractive girl, a neat dresser, with a clear, cafe-au-lait complexion and regular, well-formed features."⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Joyce and Mrs. Moore met with Principal Williams to contest the suspension. He wouldn't give in. Mrs. Moore insisted that there was nothing artificial about Joyce's hair. It was simply her natural hair.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Principal Williams insisted that he had seen Joyce with “flat” hair. Mrs. Moore explained that this had been a permanent! He told the mother that she was free to complain to the superintendent. And she did.

That's where Joyce and Helen Moore succeeded.⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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When “quashing” Joyce’s suspension, Superintendent Bert Bennett said, "Mr. Williams felt Joyce's grooming was extreme and distracting. It was a matter of judgment. I found Joyce neat, clean, well-groomed and not too extreme as to her hairdo.⁣⁣"⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Joyce's story and picture made the front page of the paper. She said, "I'm happy to be back...I'm glad it's over. The truth is, I'd like to get me another perm, but it costs $16, and I just don't have it right now."⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Joyce also said she wanted to be a beautician, and that she considered Holmes High School to be too strict. “You have to get permission for the restroom, and they check you in and out, time you, and record the number of times you went."⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣⁣
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Public scrutiny over her appearance, bathroom scrutiny for a teenage girl... high school must have been stressful for Joyce.

The original photo caption for the newspaper photo was "Joyce Moore now goes to classes at Holmes High with her hair like this."

In October 2020, the City of Covington was the first city in Kentucky to ban hair discrimination. From Joyce's high school years until just a few years ago, students were still being suspended from school for their natural hair.

The Human Rights Ordinance provision that bans hair discrimination is called the CROWN Act, or Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair. It "forbids race-based hair discrimination that denies employment or educational opportunities because of hair texture, hairstyles, and protective hair coverings."

People of color have long been ostracized and criticized simply for embracing the hair they were born with (or deciding not to). May that Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair be here sooner, rather than later.

Images

Joyce Moore Source: photo courtesy of Kenton Library Date: 1969
Principal Richard Williams Source: photo courtesy of Kenton Library Date: 1969
detail, Holmes High School yearbook Source: courtesy of Kenton Library
detail, Holmes High School yearbook Source: photo courtesy of Kenton Library
Holmes High School Source: Covington Independent Public Schools

Metadata

Heather Churchman, “Joyce Moore and the Power of Black Girl Hair,” Cincinnati Sites and Stories, accessed February 6, 2023, http://stories.cincinnatipreservation.org/items/show/110.