By Atiya Jordan
Willie Morrow, an ambitious Black haircare inventor, chemist, author, and entrepreneur, was dedicated to serving the Black community by making resources available in their neighborhoods.
The longtime San Diego resident, whose legacy undoubtedly lives on, died June 22 at his home, surrounded by his family, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports. He was 82.
A memorial tribute has been scheduled for July 15 at The Bayview Church of San Diego, starting at 11 a.m.
Morrow was born on Oct. 9, 1939, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. According to his daughter, Cheryl Morrow, her father relocated to San Diego at 18 to “try my ideas and vision in a city I had read was the Harlem of the West.”
“America’s Finest City” was the “perfect” city for the Morrow patriarch to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams.
“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 haircare company into a tech-design industrial giant,” Cheryl told The San Diego Union-Tribune.
She added, “He just believed in community being the source of the economy. 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.”
The beauty pioneer initially offered his haircare services at 4165 Market Street in San Diego, from the Afro hairstyle to the Afro pick comb to the cold wave curl, from the first utility patented Eze-Teze hair styling comb to the first blow dryer attachment comb, and many more. He specialized in hairstyling and barbering.
Morrow’s hair products business helped fund his radio station and newspaper in the same building, providing community engagement and affordable advertising opportunities for small-business owners. As Cheryl tells it, her father’s “most proud achievement” was owning and managing XHRM, San Diego Monitor News and California Curl from 1977 to 1990.
“Those businesses became one of the largest employers of African American San Diegans by one African American man in the history of San Diego,” she said.
At age 28, Morrow became Delta Air Lines’ youngest Flying Colonel. He notably taught arts and sciences of Afro hair throughout the U.S. Department of Defense military bases on every continent.
In 2016, the Museum at California Center for the Arts in Escondido curated an exhibit honoring Dr. Morrow and his accomplishments. The exhibit featured 400 years’ worth of artifacts, photography, historical accounts, propaganda, and much more.
“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 said.
Willie Morrow is survived by his wife, Gloria; their daughters, Cheryl and Angela; and many members of his extended family.