Story Review Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough….Hair as a Crown

Photo by Nick Demou on

I am not going to lie, I was kind of downhearted when my husband cut JohnJohn’s hair for the first time. It was like the end of an era.  I was conflicted about the fact that he was growing up. The more independent he became, the less dependent he was on me…and.. I guess I am proud of him and sad for myself at the same time. These days, JohnJohn rather not be carried, but instead use his own two feet to explore the world. Over time, I have gotten to be ok with that. In this new stage of JohnJohn’s life, he loves to bond with his father. The best bonding experience that my son shares with his father is getting his haircut. While simple in its routine,  hair cutting is a special experience. It signifies how hands-on my husband wants to be in molding and shaping not just the image, but the character of his son. I don’t know how many people will understand me when I say this , but a ponytail is not just a ponytail, a bang is not just a bang, and a haircut is not just a haircut in some parts of the African-American community. Cornrows by Camille Yarbrough illustrated by Carole Byard speaks to the fact that cornrows are more than just a hairstyle. This story poetically tells the truth, meaning, and history of the cornrow braid. 

Photo by Ree on

Sister is the main character of the story. She spends  a night of story telling and singing with Great-Grammaw and Momma. It is during this time, that  Momma and Great-Grammaw braids Sister’s s hair. Great-Grammaw talks about the history of the cornrow. She tells the names and origins of hair braiding and how it weaves itself into African American culture. 

This is a story that needs to be told. Yarbourgh helps the reader to visualize the history of the cornrow by explaining the genesis of its  name. The imagery of hair braiding is profound. When Great-Grammaw braids Sister’s hair into a “basket” style, Sister asks Mother, “What will she put in the baskets?”. Mother responds and says she will put love. It is here that the reader understands that the  cornrow is a declaration of the deepest type of love. Way too often, braids are associated with the plantation and fields in a negative and oppressive way; but this story shifts that mindset. Braids represent a type of love that is passed from generation to generation. The story also reveals that the cornrow is a symbol of craftmanship. The African Spirit is manifested in its carpentry and sculptures, just like it is expressed in the braid. It is more than just a hairstyle but an expression of African art. The Cornrow is enduring. It survived slavery and oppression without compromising its royal appearance. Sister plays a game with Mother where Mother ask her to name her style. She can name it after a river, animal, or even Malcom X ,Martin Luther King, or  James Baldwin. This helps Sister to see the power and legacy of the style. This story needs to be told over and over again. It gives clarity to the complexity of understanding African American hair.

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