DOZ Issue 52 February 2020 - Page 8

DOZ Leadership Lessons Eturuvie Erebor adan C. J. Walker was an African- American entrepreneur, a political and social activist, and a philanthropist. At the time of her death in May of 1919, she was considered the wealthiest African-American businesswoman and most affluent self-made woman in America and although her estate was worth an estimated $600,000, when she died, she was eulogized as the first female self-made millionaire in the US. But in her obituary in The New York Times, it was stated, “she said herself two years ago that she was not yet a millionaire, but hoped to be some time.” She was born Sarah Breedlove on the 23rd of December, 1867, in a village in Louisiana. Her parents were Owen and Minerva Breedlove. While her parents and her older siblings were born into slavery, Sarah was the first child in her family born into freedom as she was born after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Her parents within a year of each other and at the age of seven, Sarah was already an orphan and went to live with her older sister, and brother-in-law, in Mississippi where she worked as a domestic servant. She had little or no opportunity and had only three months of formal education, which she learned during Sunday school literacy lessons at church. At the age of 14, she married Moses McWilliams, possibly to escape abuse from her brother-in-law, Jesse Powell, and in that marriage, she had one daughter, A’Lelia Walker. Moses died in 1887, and in 1894, Sarah remarried John Davis but left him around 1903. She moved to Denver, Colorado, where she married Charles Joseph Walker, a newspaper advertising salesman. She became known as Madam C. J. Walker, following her marriage to Charles Joseph Walker. Her daughter, DOZ Magazine | February 2020 A’Lelia McWilliams, adopted her stepfather’s surname and became known as A’Lelia Walker. The marriage to Charles lasted about six years and they divorced in 1912. She founded Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company and invented a line of African American hair products after suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her hair loss. Through this business, she made a fortune. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and training sales beauticians. By 1917 her company had trained about 20,000 women. In addition to training in sales and grooming, she showed other black women how to budget, build their own businesses, and encouraged them to become financially independent. She organised her sales agents into state and local clubs and the result was the establishment of the National Beauty Culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents. As her wealth increased, she became more vocal about her views. At one gathering, she declared: “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 died at the age of 51 in May of 1919, and her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, became the president of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Her name became even more widely known, after her death, as her company’s business market expanded beyond the United States to Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Panama, and Costa Rica. 8 M MADAM C. J. WALKER