Black Entrepreneur and San Diego Icon Willie Morrow Dies at 82

San Diegan entrepreneur and African-American community leader Willie Morrow passed away at the age of 82.

A chemist and hairstylist who honed his haircutting skills as a barber in the army, Morrow first established a hair salon in San Diego in 1959. He invented numerous products throughout the 1960s and 1970s, including the Afro pick, a comb to tease out one's Afro. Morrow also pioneered the Jheri (also spelled Jerry or Jeri) curl hairstyle that is popular to this day. Using the profits from his haircare products, he founded a radio station and a newspaper in the same building that his products were made. Additionally, two of his companies, the San Diego Monitor News and California Curl, became two of the largest employers of American-American San Diegans in the city.

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Morrow's daughter, Cheryl Morrow, said that her father believed in community and small businesses as the backbone of the economy. However, because the African-American hair market was at the time popular but untapped, Morrow's inventions became popular outside of his local customers. Cheryl Morrow told the San Diego Tribune that her father was a pillar of the large African-American community in San Diego, despite facing racism as he attempted to build his empire. Cheryl Morrow added that, to her father, the most effective way to fight racism was to develop a considerable presence in the local economy that couldn't be ignored. This meant employing African-American workers, creating media and newspapers for his community, and giving them specially-catered haircare products.

"For my father, it was about economics," Morrow said. “My dad said racism in San Diego afforded him to be the best barber in the city, the state, the country, then the world. Racism afforded him the opportunity to zero in on what his people needed. He did not fight with a fist, he created things; it was his way of dealing with racism through economics.”