The Most Important People in Black Hair History

From inventors to innovators, we celebrate the cutting-edge men who pushed the tonsorial game forward

LEVEL Editors
Published in
9 min readMay 13, 2020


Illustrations: Ryan Melgar

Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting

Once upon a time, there was the straight razor, and lo it was… fine. Sure, it was better than the sharpened flints and shells that kicked off the barbering game around 5000 B.C.E., but you couldn’t do all that much with it. When it came to your hair, your only real options were Lots or None. But something special happened about 150 years ago: We started to level up in a big way. Since then, Black hair has become not just an extension of our style, but of our very selves.

Given the fact that LEVEL is celebrating Black men’s hair all month long, we wanted to do something to recognize the people who have contributed to that progress — those who have made new tools, cooked up groundbreaking products, and displayed straight-up artistry with their natural-born gifts. So to them, we say: Welcome to the inaugural class of the Black Men’s Hair Hall of Fame. Welcome, you clipper gods and cornrow kings; welcome, you homebrew tinkerers and Black entrepreneurs; welcome, you ambassadors of inventiveness. You may have been honored before, but we promise you it was nothing like this.

S. Henry Bundles Jr. and Henry M. Childrey (1927–2019, 1925–1997)

Inventors of the modern afro pick

Soft as cotton but thick as a bush, the afro was a cloud of outward identity and self-expression during the civil rights era — a wooly crown affixed to the heads of Black-and-proud brothers and sisters who were down for the cause. As such, the politicized hairstyle required a styling accessory that was equally strong, both literally and figuratively. Bundles and Childrey answered the call. In 1970, the Black innovators — CEO and senior vice president, respectively, of hair care company Summit Laboratories — obtained a patent for the afro pick, improving upon a comb with roots in ancient Egypt. The pick’s long teeth were perfect for stretching those…