The many accomplishments of African-Americans are well known to us in the twenty-first century, but those of Mme. C. J. Walker are well worth retelling.
Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, to poor parents in Delta, Louisiana, Sarah wanted something for her life and decided to get it. It was not easy for African-Americans to get ahead in those days, but she was a determined individual who ultimately succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
Early Marriage and Widowhood
Sarah married Moses McWilliams at the age of fifteen, and was widowed before she turned twenty. In 1910 she began to sell her own hair pomades and lotions which she had invented to help flatten her curly hair, which she felt was a link to slavery. She began experimenting with various lotions and potions and finally came up with one that was successful in stimulating hair growth and curing minor scalp problems. Her miracle ingredient was sulphur.
She also invented a wide-tooth steel comb for the thick and extremely curly hair of African-Americans, which turned out to be a hit. With her daughter A’Lelia ( who had been born in 1885), she filled mail orders, and began moving around the country teaching and selling. She soon had many loyal followers who bought all her products, bringing her much success.
On her travels she stopped at Indianapolis, Indiana, and was so impressed with the town that she stayed there permanently and soon had a group of women known as Walker Agents going door-to -door selling her products. Her business brought many women of color into the fold, allowing them to earn a respectable salary as professional salespeople.
In 1906 she married Charles Joseph Walker and became known herself as Madam C. J. Walker. Millionaire Sarah Breedlove Walker died in 1919 and is buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York.
In 1927, A’Lelia opened the Madam Walker Building in Indianapolis, which underwent renovations in the 1970’s. In 1998, Madam C .J. Walker became the 21st African-American to be honored with a postage stamp in the Black History Series.
Madam Walker said,
“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.” Madam Walker, National Negro Business League Convention, July,1912.
- Susan B. Anthony Slept Here by Lynn Sherr and Jurate Kazickas Times Books 1976