The historical background of the story is very important. During the 1960's, there was a movement by African-Americans to learn more about their African roots. Because of all of the civil rights greats like Martin Luther King, Jr., and their influence, many African-Americans learned to take pride in their heritage and to connect with it for the first time. Dee and Hakim-a-Barber reflect this. They are wearing traditional African clothing when they come to see Dee and Maggie. They have grown out their hair to respect their African roots, as well, for example. The two of them represent this movement in American history.
As for biographical information, Walker's life parallels the life that Maggie and Mama live. Walker grew up the daughter of a sharecropper. Her family lived in very poor conditions and suffered heartbreak and many difficulties. Like Maggie, Walker was also disfigured; a gunshot would left her blind in one eye and made her shy and withdrawn.
Read more about Alice Walker on eNotes in the link below: