On December 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 to be one of the most successful self-made entrepreneurs of the 20th century.
“I am a woman from the cotton fields of the South. From there, I was promoted to basin. From there I was promoted to cook kitchen. And from there, I progressed into the business of manufacturing hair products and preparations…I built my own factory on my own land.
Mrs. CJ Walker, July 1912
Sarah lost her parents at the age of 7 and survived by working in the cotton fields of Delta and Vicksburg. In the 1890s, Sarah began to suffer from a scalp disease which resulted in the loss of most of her hair. She tried many products, even experimenting with her own home remedies.
In 1905 Sarah moved to Denver, Colorado and married Charles Joseph Walker. After changing her name to “Madame” CJ Walker, she started her own business selling Madame Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Her new business grew rapidly and she empowered other black women by providing lucrative career opportunities within the company.
“I don’t just make money for myself. I strive to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race.
Mrs. CJ 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 featuring Octavia Spencer and a Barbie® doll.
Let us remember Madame 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 cotton fields to the mightiest plays of ‘America – a journey with which she traveled the integrity and grace we should all seek.
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