Joe Louis Dudley, Pioneering Hair Care Entrepreneur, Dies at 86

Joe Louis Dudley, who expanded a kitchen-table business that he started with his wife at the time into one of the largest Black-owned hair care companies in the Southeast, and who founded schools that trained tens of thousands of cosmetologists, died on Feb. 8 at his home in Kernersville, N.C., a suburb of Winston-Salem, He was 86.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his daughter Ursula Dudley Oglesby said.

In the 1960s, Joe and Eunice Dudley were newly married and selling S.B. Fuller beauty products door to door in New York City. Mr. Fuller — no relation to the venerable Fuller Brush Company door-to-door enterprise — was a Chicago-based Black businessman who preached a gospel of advancement through hard work and who made millions in the days when women were eager to buy cosmetics in their homes.

Imbibing his training and message, the Dudleys took their door-to-door Fuller venture to North Carolina. And when the Fuller company had manufacturing problems, they began making their own products: scalp creams, oil shampoos and pomades that they mixed at home and poured into old mayonnaise jars.

Mr. Dudley stirred the formulas in steel drums with a spatula the size of a canoe paddle. Ms. Dudley typed the labels, and their children screwed on the jar tops after the products had cooled and set overnight.

The Dudley kitchen, Ms. Dudley said by phone, was not for cooking meals.

Mr. Dudley with his wife at the time, Eunice Dudley, in 1972 at their company headquarters in North Carolina Credit…Greensboro News & Record

But they soon moved their operations out of the kitchen. And after a stint in Chicago, where the Dudleys took over the Fuller business, which was floundering, they returned to North Carolina and built their first plant, in Greensboro, adding Fuller products to their own line.

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