Madam C.J. Walker’s Legacy


Lacie Coleman, Podcast, photography

     Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty in the South to become one of the wealthiest African American women of her time. Her contributions to the way of life for black people changed the lives of many.

     Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23rd, 1867 on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana into a family of 8. Her parents, Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove were former slaves that became sharecroppers after the Civil War. Walker was an orphan by age 7, so as a result she went to live with her older sister Louvenia, and the two worked in the cotton fields. Though it was partially an attempt to escape her abusive brother-in-law, She married Moses McWilliams in 1882. After three years together, the pair had a daughter, Lelia McWilliams, whose name would later be changed to A’Lelia Walker. Walker moved to St. Louis, MO in 1889 in hopes of finding a way out of poverty. She worked as a laundress and cook there. In 1894, she married John Davis, but they later divorced due to troubles in their marriage. 

     Walker was struggling with money and battling hair loss. She trained at Poro College, which helped African American women learn about black hair and skin care to create their own beauty care businesses. After a year of working as a saleswoman for another businesswoman, she moved to Denver, Colorado. She then married a man named Charles Joseph Walker and changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker. Walker started creating treatments by mixing items from her local drugstore. She then launched her own line of hair products and straighteners for African American women, “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” Walker’s husband initially helped with spreading the word of her business but after their divorce in 1910, she relocated to Indianapolis. In Indianapolis, Walker built a factory for her company. Walker employed 40,000 African American women and men in the US, Central America, and the Caribbean and founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917. 

     Walker’s business continued to grow, with her worth topping 1 million dollars. She contributed to many charities, movements, and programs that helped African Americans. Madame C.J. Walker’s legacy continues to help many and has positively influenced the success of African Americans.