One hundred and forty-nine years ago today, Sarah Breedlove (known as Madame C.J. Walker) was born, the daughter of formerly enslaved Africans, Owen and Minerva Breedlove. The Breedloves may not have known it, but their daughter would become one of the most influential women of her time and continues to inspire generations today. Walker overcame many difficulties early in her life on her path to becoming the first self-made female millionaire:
- Born December 23, 1867, just four years following the Emancipation Proclamation
- Orphaned at the age of seven when her parents were stricken with yellow fever
- Marries Moses McWilliams at the age of 14
- Gives birth to her only child, daughter A’Lelia at 17 years old
- Age 20 she becomes a widow
- By age 33 while working as a laundress, she invents and begins selling her hair 1st hair product
- By the 1920s her sales force numbers over 20,000 and she has several international locations.
Walker’s legacy is particularly important today as we see the black hair industry is valued in the billions and black women are rapidly staking their claim. As more and more women of color embrace their natural textures, we see a rise in black female entrepreneurship with social media as the main avenue of access. Whether its a YouTube channel like Naptural85, Hair Crush or My Natural Sistas, young black women are setting new standards for their hair and beauty and building empires in the spirit of our enterprising foremother.
Madame Walker left behind a powerful blueprint for self-determination and success. She was keenly aware of her power and influence and used them accordingly. She was not only a savvy business woman but also a philanthropist and community activist. She counted Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod-Bethune and W.E.B. DuBois among her circle. More importantly, she gave generously to causes and institutions to improve the lives of Blacks, including the NAACP, the YMCA, the Tuskegee Institute and Bethune-Cookman University.
There is no shortage of inspiration and examples of excellence in our history. Madame C.J. Walker is just one of the many women and men that we must lift up for our students to take PRIDE in. That young lady in your class who loves has a new ‘do every week or loves to talk about beauty or fashion, she needs to know the legacy that has been left for her. Our stories of struggle, determination and triumph matter because they serve as a guide for our children today in world of challenges that may seem insurmountable.
Peace good people and have a peaceful holiday break!