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Monday, September 17, 2012

Madam CJ Walker - Tribute To The Woman That Paved The Way

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Madam CJ Walker

It's about time that I give credit where it is due. Madam CJ Walker was considered one of the wealthiest black women in history. She was the first  African-American millionaire due to her hair care business. Not enough people know about Madam CJ Walker, but she was one of the first topics in my cosmetology book! Here is a tribute to her, about her life. 

Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove, on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. She was one of six children; she had a sister Louvenia and four brothers: Alexander, James, Solomon, and Owen, Jr. Her parents and elder siblings were slaves on Madison Parish plantation owned by Robert W. Burney.  She was the first child in her family born into freedom after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

Both of her parents were dead by the time she was seven years old, making her an orphan.  Madam C. J. Walker moved in with her older sister, and brother-in-law, Willie Powell. At the age of 14, she married Moses McWilliams to escape Powell's abuse. Three years later her daughter, Lelia McWilliams (A'Lelia Walker) was born. When Sarah was 20, her husband died. Lelia was just 2 years old. Shortly afterward she moved to St. Louis where three of her brothers, who were barbers, lived. Her second marriage to John Davis ended in 1903, so she married a third time in 1906 to newspaper advertising salesman, Charles Joseph Walker.

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. In September, 1906 Madam Walker and her husband toured the country promoting their products and training sales agents while Lelia ran a mail-order operation from Denver. From 1908 to 1910 they operated a beauty training school, the Lelia College for Walker Hair Culturists, in Pittsburgh.  In 1910 they  moved the central operations to Indianapolis, then the country's largest inland manufacturing base, to utilize that city's access to eight major railway systems. Madam Walker and her husband divorced in 1912.

She became an inspiration to many black women. She began to teach and train other black women in order to help them build their own businesses. She also gave other lectures on political, economic and social issues at conventions sponsored by powerful black institutions. She also encouraged black Americans to support the cause of World War I and worked to have black veterans granted full respect. 

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.She continued to donate money throughout her career to the NAACP, the YMCA, and to black schools, organizations, individuals, orphanages, and retirement homes.

Madam C. J. Walker died on May 25, 1919, at her home in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. At the time of her death, Madam C. J. Walker was sole owner of her business, which was valued at more than $1 million, making her the first self-made millionaire and the wealthiest African-American woman. Her personal fortune was around $600,000 to $700,000. She left one-third of her estate went to her daughter—who herself became well known as a supporter of the Harlem Renaissance—the remainder to various philanthropies. Her business strategies and philosophies inspired countless others.

Her prescription for success was perseverance, hard work, faith in herself and in God, "honest business dealings" and of course, quality products. "There is no royal flower-strewn path to success," she once observed. "And if there is, I have not found it - for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard." She goes on to say this: "I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground" - Madame Walker


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