All Melony Armstrong wanted to do was teach others how to braid hair. But that would have turned her into a criminal.
Melony is the proud owner of Naturally Speaking, a natural hair-braiding salon in Tupelo, Miss. In order to expand her business, she wanted to teach new hires the intricacies behind the art of African hair braiding.
Yet the State Board of Cosmetology thwarted her plans. Melony could only legally teach braiding if she became a licensed cosmetology instructor. That was no easy feat. Mississippi required a whopping 3,200 hours of training and thousands of dollars in tuition. To put that in perspective, in less time, Melony could also train to become an emergency medical technician, an ambulance driver, hunting instructor and a firefighter—combined.
So to vindicate her right to economic liberty, in 2004, she and the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in federal court and sued Mississippi. Melony also routinely traveled to the state capital in Jackson (a seven-hour round trip from Tupelo) to persuade legislators to embrace reform. Spurred by her efforts, state lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill to liberalize braiding. Now the state has some of the best braiding laws in the nation, requiring entrepreneurs to pay just $25 in registration fees and to complete a self-test on hygiene. Since the law was reformed, about 1,000 braiders have registered in Mississippi.
Melony has gone on to teach over 125 people the art behind this venerated tradition, while her braiding business has employed 25 women. Ever determined to help other small business owners, Melony even testified before Congress earlier this year, urging legislators to “heed our calls to remove those laws that do nothing but prevent honest competition in trades from coast to coast.”