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Madam C.J. Walker: From Delta, La. to the history books

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Madam C.J. Walker
(credit: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History)
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On Dec. 23, 1867, Delta, Louisiana sharecroppers Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove had a daughter and named her Sarah. Sarah was born on the same plantation where her parents were forced to work as slaves before the end of the Civil War. This child would grow up and become one of the twentieth century’s most successful, self-made entrepreneurs.

“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 C.J. Walker, July 1912

Sarah lost her parents at age 7 and survived by working in the cotton fields in Delta and in Vicksburg. By the 1890s, Sarah began to suffer from a scalp ailment that resulted in the loss of most of her hair. She tried many products, even experimenting with her own homemade remedies.

(credit: History.com)

In 1905, Sarah moved to Denver, Colorado and married Charles Joseph Walker. After changing her name to “Madam” C.J. Walker, she started her own business selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Her new business saw rapid growth, and she empowered other Black women by providing lucrative career opportunities within the company.

“I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment to hundreds of women of my race.”

Madam C.J. Walker

She was among the first women, especially Black women, to achieve such success – but she was more than a businesswoman, she was a mother, a social justice warrior, and a woman of God. Her memory was recently honored with a Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer and a Barbie® doll.

Let’s remember Madam Walker today, and every day, as we walk the same banks of the Mississippi River that she walked in her youth and be inspired by her journey from the cotton fields to the most powerful rooms in America – a journey that she traveled with integrity and grace that we should all strive for.

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