From our Sacred Ground in Action (SGIA) Committee
Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919) was “the first Black woman millionaire in America” and made her fortune thanks to her homemade line of hair care products for Black women. Born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867. Her parents, Owen and Minerva, were Louisiana sharecroppers who had been born into slavery. Sarah, their fifth child, was the first in her family to be born free after the Emancipation Proclamation. Her early life was marked by hardship; she was orphaned at six, married at fourteen (to Moses McWilliams, with whom she had a daughter, A’Lelia, in 1885) and became a widow at twenty.
Walker and 2-year-old A’Lelia moved to St. Louis, where Walker balanced working as a laundress with night school. She sang in the choir of the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church and became active in the National Association of Colored Women. It was in St. Louis that she first met Charles J. Walker, the man who would become her second husband—and inspire the name of her eventual empire.
She was inspired to create her hair products after an experience with hair loss, which led to the creation of the “Walker system” of hair care. A talented entrepreneur with a knack for self-promotion, Walker built a business empire, at first selling products directly to Black women, then employing “beauty culturalists” to hand-sell her wares. The self-made millionaire used her fortune to fund scholarships for women at the Tuskegee Institute and donated large parts of her wealth to the NAACP, the Black YMCA and other charities. Source: History.com
Check out the movie inspired by Madam Walker starring Octavia Spencer on Netflix: Self Made Drama · TV-MA