Since there are so many facets of the history that people of African descent have made in this country, I’ve decided to continue my “Black History 365″ series from my poetry blog here on my AfrocentriqueAZ blog. I’ll be posting a new “First Black” every day this month and every Wednesday for the months after that.
In honor of WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH all March the articles will all be about first Black WOMEN… Today’s is Madam C. J. Walker
Sarah Breedlove (December 23, 1867 – May 25, 1919), known as Madam C. J. Walker, was an American entrepreneur and philanthropist, regarded as the first female self-made millionaire in America. She made her fortune by developing and marketing a successful line of beauty and hair products for black women under the company she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company.
Like many women of her era, Sarah experienced hair loss. Because most Americans lacked indoor plumbing, central heating and electricity, they bathed and washed their hair infrequently. The result was scalp disease. Sarah experimented with home remedies and products already on the market until she finally developed her own shampoo and an ointment that contained sulfur to make her scalp healthier for hair growth.
Sarah, now known as Madam C. J. Walker, was selling her products throughout the United States. While her daughter Lelia (later known as A’Lelia Walker) ran a mail order business from Denver, Madam Walker and her husband traveled throughout the southern and eastern states. They settled in Pittsburgh in 1908 and opened Lelia College to train “hair culturists.” In 1910 Walker moved to Indianapolis where she established her headquarters and built a factory.
She began to teach and train other black women in order to help them build their own businesses. She also gave other lectures on the political, economic and social issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. After the East St. Louis Race Riot, she joined leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in their efforts to support legislation to make lynching a federal crime. In 1918 at the biennial convention of the National Association Of Colored Woman (NACW) she was acknowledged for making the largest contribution to save the Anacostia (Washington, DC) house of abolitionist Frederick Douglass. She continued to donate money throughout her career to the NAACP, the YMCA, and to black schools, organizations, individuals, orphanages, and retirement homes.
Madam Walker was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in 1990, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, in Seneca Falls, New York, the National Cosmetology Hall of Fame and the National Direct Sales Hall of Fame. On January 28, 1998, the USPS, as part of its Black Heritage Series, issued the Madam C. J. Walker Commemorative stamp. On March 16, 2010, Congressman Charles Rangel introduced HJ81, a Congressional House Joint Resolution, honoring Madam C. J. Walker. In December 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a bill designating the block of 136th Street between Malcolm X Boulevard (Lenox Avenue) and Seventh Avenue as Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker Place.
While according to Walker’s New York Times obituary, “she said herself two years ago [in 1917] that she was not yet a millionaire, but hoped to be some time,” the Guinness Book of Records named Walker as the first woman to become a millionaire by her own achievements.