Dr. Willie Lee Morrow– the pioneer of the Jheri Curl, inventor of the Afro-pick, entrepreneur, and author, passed away at 82 years old on June 22.
Morrow’s story began in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 1939. In his early twenties, he traveled to San Diego, where he quickly blossomed into a self-taught barber. He felt that the ‘Harlem of the West’ was a place of boundless opportunity. He taught himself the basics of giving cuts and chemistry to build a business in hair care all on his own, according to CBS 8. Morrow wanted to use the hair care products he invented and popularized to give back to San Diego’s sprawling Black community by creating opportunities and providing resources for those in need. Some of his staples included the Afro pick as well as the Blow Out Comb.
“For many Black people from the South, San Diego became home because of military service and jobs, and my father saw an opportunity to flourish by supplying the beauty needs of African American military personnel and civilians. He turned a Black hair care company into a tech-design industrial giant,” Willie’s daughter, Cheryl Morrow, told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Cheryl opened up about how her pioneer father went on to launch his own radio station and newspaper company in the same commercial building as his barbershop. The proud daughter said her father was driven by one thing– to see the people in his community thrive.
“He just believed in community being the source of the economy,” she explained. “That you should not have to go out of your own community for the resources and wealth that you needed. It should be in your community. And it just so happened that because of the cultural iconography of Black hair, it was such an industrial powerhouse that it funded other things,”
Willie’s economic prowess came from how widespread and practical his products were. The Afro pick and cold wave curl, the styling comb and the first patented blow dryer attachment comb. He enriched his community with his inventions and his kind heart.
“Thank you, San Diego, for giving an Alabama boy the reality of dreams fulfilled. Willie L. Morrow [is] 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,” Cheryl finished.