As we continue to celebrate the women in history that have paved the way for us in this world, I would like to take time out to shed light on what I feel like is one of the most underrated black women in our history. This week’s spotlight shines a light on the groundbreaking Madam CJ Walker, who should be discussed not just during Black History Month and National Women’s History Month, but just in general conversation.
Sarah Breedlove, better known to the world as Madam CJ Walker was an American entrepreneur, philanthropist, political and social activist. She’s recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America by the Guinness Book of World Records.
She was born on Dec. 23, 1867, on a plantation in Delta, LA to former slaves that were later turned into sharecroppers after the Civil War. As life continued and she became a single mother to two daughters, in 1889 she moved to St. Louis, MO to find a way out of poverty. Unfortunately, Walker’s life took a dramatic turn in 1904 when she started struggling financially and suffering hair loss. That same year, she started using African American businesswoman Annie Turbo Malone’s hair care products which inspired her a year later to move to Denver, CO and start her own hair care line with just $1.25.
Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower was the start of a growing empire. In 1910, Walker relocated to Indianapolis and built a factory for her Walker Manufacturing Company. She opened training programs in the “Walker Systems” for her national network of licensed sales agents who earned healthy commissions. She ended up employing over 40,000 African American women and used her widely known platform for the advancement of black people and the end of lynching. She also founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917.
Until her death due to kidney failure, Walker created a life for not only herself but for others around her. She shows women to not only take initiative to have the ambition to create a lifestyle for themselves but she gives us the motivation to want to do more than just the typical get-rich-quick dreams. Not only was she her own brand, but Walker was an advocate for the betterment of her people.
I admire Walker’s work because they can’t be seen as efforts. An “effort” put towards the legacy she built would’ve meant an attempt at success. Walker didn’t attempt to succeed, she did succeed, which means she went beyond the normal efforts. She put in a life of dedication and passion into constructing a name for herself.
Madam CJ Walker was a self-made millionaire, something all women can strive for, and every woman has the power and ability to achieve. She took hold of the reigns to leave room for the rest of us to finish the race she started. She broke barriers and this week, my spotlight shines brightly on you, Miss Walker. Continue to rest peacefully.
The views in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Torch.