Did You Know Madam C.J. Walker Was Born on This Day?

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Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madam C.J. Walker, was born on December 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana. Walker made specialized hair care products for African-Americans and became a self-made millionaire.

Her parents were formerly enslaved, but Walker, who was their fifth child, was the first in the family to be free-born. However, after the death of her parents, Walker became an orphan at the age of seven and she was sent to live with her sister and brother-in-law.

At the age of 14, Walker married a man named Moses McWilliams and gave birth to her daughter, A’Lelia. McWilliams died two years after the birth of their daughter and Walker moved to St. Louis, Missouri. There she met her second husband, Charles J. Walker.

Walker began to develop a scalp disorder during the 1890s, which caused her to suffer from hair loss. This prompted her to start experimenting with home remedies and store-bought hair care treatments in an attempt to improve the condition of her hair. After being hired as an agent by successful, Black hair-care product entrepreneur Annie Turnbo Malone, she moved to Denver, Colorado and started promoting her own hair-care treatment.

In 1907 Walker and her husband traveled to different areas in the South and Southeast to promote her products and give a lecture demonstration of her renowned “Walker Method,” which included the formula for her pomade, brushing techniques and the use of the popular hot comb. Due to her success, Walker opened a factory and a beauty school in Pittsburgh in 1908. The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company was successful and made profits that would be equivalent to several million dollars today.

Walker had a talent for self-promotion and quickly became popular amongst her many customers. She was known as the first Black woman millionaire in America and owned a luxurious country home designed by Black architect Vertner Tandy.

She also used her wealth to give back to various charities and organizations. She contributed to her local YMCA, paid tuition for African American students at Tuskegee University, became active in the anti-lynching movement, and donated $5,000 to the NAACP’s efforts.

Walker died in her home on May 25, 1919, at the age of 51. She solidified her life as a philanthropist and revised her will to leave two-thirds of her future profits to charity shortly before passing. 

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