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Book on black beauty shops as agents of social change wins important award

Associate Professor Tiffany M. Gill wins 2010 Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH) prize.

Posted: September 8, 2010
Prof. Tiffany M. Gill

Prof. Tiffany M. Gill

Tiffany Gill’s recently published book, Black Beauty Shops: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry (University of Illinois Press, March 2010), has received the ABWH’s prestigious Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Award.

Gill uses the lens of black business history to parlay African Americans' economic independence and access to a public community space into platforms for activism. Gill argues that the beauty industry played a crucial role in the creation of the modern black female identity and that the seemingly frivolous space of a beauty salon actually has stimulated social, political and economic change.

From the founding of the National Negro Business League in 1900 and onward, African Americans have embraced the entrepreneurial spirit by starting their own businesses. But the businesses of black men have generally overshadowed black women's efforts.

With a broad scope that encompasses the role of gossip in salons, ethnic beauty products, and the social meanings of African American hair textures, Gill shows how African American beauty entrepreneurs built and sustained a vibrant culture of activism in beauty salons and schools.

Enhanced by articulate portrayals of black beauticians and drawing on archival research and oral histories, Beauty Shop Politics conveys the everyday operations and rich culture of black beauty salons as well as their role in building community.

"The scope of the material and interdisciplinary scholarship evident throughout the book makes Beauty Shop Politics a comprehensive addition to the bookshelves of women's studies, African-American studies, and entrepreneurial studies, as well as to history, business, and political-science departments. It is a truly interdisciplinary endeavor,” said The Chronicle of Higher Education in a review of the book.

Gill's prize comes with a distinguished name attached as it is named for Letitia Woods Brown (1915-1976), one of the first black historians/teachers in the country to gain international fame. Brown wrote Free Negroes in the District of Columbia, 1790-1846 published in 1972. From 1971-1976, she was a faculty member at George Washington University (GWU). Before GWU, she also taught at Tuskegee Institute, LeMoyne-Owen College, and Howard University.

She was a tireless advocate for recording the African-American history of the United States, particularly in Washington, D.C. where she lived much of her life. She served on the Committee on Landmarks of the National Capital and co-wrote several books on the capital.

As the lead consultant for the Schlesinger Library Black Women Oral History Project, Brown was instrumental in obtaining the interviews of 72 black women from earlier generations. The riveting accounts from these pathbreaking women helped to establish the nascent field of black women's history.

"Ever since I started my academic career, the ABWH has been an organization that has supported and nurtured my work," Gill says. "I have admired so many of the scholars that have received this award in previous years and am honored to now be a recipient."

The ABWH has given this award annually since 1983 for excellence in scholarship. Gill will be receive it at the organization’s annual luncheon on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2010, in Raleigh, N.C.

The ABWH was founded in 1977 with four main goals of establishing a network for the members, promoting black women in the history profession, dispersing information about opportunities in the field, and making recommendations on topics for research and archives.

In addition to her research Gill is also an accomplished teacher. In August 2010, she was selected as one of only 30 professors at The University of Texas at Austin to receive the 2010 Regents' Outstanding Teacher Award. She is affiliated with the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies at the university.

Related Links:
Associate Professor Tiffany M. Gill
Beauty Shop Politics
Association of Black Women Historians
Professor Gill recipient of Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award

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