Let Them Braid Hair


Three African-American women from Tupelo joined an attorney from Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Aug. 5, in front of the James O. Eastland Federal Court Building downtown to demand the right to make a living. The women—an accomplished African hairbraider and two who would like to be—are filing a civil rights lawsuit in challenging the state's cosmetology laws, saying they discriminate against them because of burdensome licensing requirements that make it difficult to braid hair for a living or teach the skill of braiding to others.

"The purpose of today's lawsuit is to vindicate the rights of these women to earn a living and who can't under Mississippi law," said attorney Dana Berliner of the Institute for Justice in Washington.

Melony Armstrong is an experienced braider who runs Tupelo's only natural hair care salon, Naturally Speaking. She needed a license to braid—potentially big business in her community—but the state offers no licenses specifically for braiding or braiding instruction. She said she had to spend 300 hours, and pay for it, to get a license in "wigology," which is the care of wigs and not actually braiding. "Hair braiding in the black community is something that is part of our culture," Armstrong said.

The two other women, Christina Griffin and Margaret Burden, do not have a license and, because there is no wigology school nearby (there are only two in the state), they must get a cosmetology license, which involves 1,500 hours of classes in skills far beyond braiding hair. And braiding is not even part of the curriculum. "Christina and Margaret would have to learn damaging chemical services that are unrelated and even antithetical to African hairbraiding and natural hair care," their attorneys said in a statement.

"I would really love to learn how to braid. She's building on the foundation of our culture," said Burden of Armstrong. She said braiding is a "way to bring pride into the black community."

Berliner said that the profession of braiding is not taken seriously by the state of Mississippi, whose licensing scheme "delivers a one-two punch to African hairbraiders." She said that only one group in the state benefits from the regulatory scheme: the cosmetology industry. "Practicing cosmetologists get to set the bar for entry to their profession high, and thereby keep competition to a minimum," she said. All five members of the State Board of Cosmetology are required to have practiced in the business for at least 10 years. Berliner says the cosmetology industry enjoys a "near monopoly" over all types of hairstyling throughout the U.S.

"Our goal is to restore economic liberty," she said. Berliner said that in less than the 3,200 hours required for Armstrong to teach braiding, she could become an EMT, paramedic, ambulance driver, police officer, firefighter, real estate appraiser and a hunting education instructor in Mississippi. Added together, those professions would require 600 hours less than what it takes to get a license to braid hair in the state.


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