On August 9, 1869, Robert and Isabella (née Cook) Turnbo welcomed the birth of their tenth child, Annie Minerva; she would be the second to the last of their eleven children. Her parents, who had been enslaved in Kentucky, found freedom in Metropolis, Illinois, where Annie was born on their farm.
Tragically, Annie became orphaned when she, at a young age, lost both of her parents. She moved to Peoria, where an older sister, Ada Moody, reared her. She loved learning, especially chemistry. However, she was constantly ill. Her illness caused her to miss a great deal of school, hindering her from graduating high school.
Typical of many young women, she was interested in caring for and styling her hair. However, the products and methods that African-Americans used at the ending of the nineteenth century were often harmful, even toxic, and damaged not only the hair but also the hair follicles and scalp of Blacks. These products often contained soap, butter, goose fat, bacon grease, even lye, in order to straighten the naturally coiled hair of many African-Americans. Adding to this damage was some African-Americans’ use of carding combs, which are for the detangling wool of sheep.
Many Black females saw their natural hair and styling in braids and plaits as reminiscent of slavery. According to the Freeman Institute website, which is dedicated to the memory of Annie Turnbo Malone, “the popular style among Black women was that of a ‘straight hair’ look. Black women were starting to turn their backs on the braided cornrow styles they’d associated with the fields of slavery and began to embrace a look which, for them meant, freedom and progression toward equality in America.”