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On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker

1 rating: 4.0
A book by A'Lelia Bundles

Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) was the first African American female millionaire through her hair care products for African-American women and her ability to effectively market them.  She became a benefactor of social causes, including black educational … see full wiki

Author: A'Lelia Bundles
Genre: African-American & Black, Women, Economics, Production & Operations, Biographies & Memoirs, History
1 review about On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of...

A Personal Biography of Madam C.J. Walker

  • Feb 27, 2009
  • by
What Madame C. J. Walker was able to accomplish in her lifetime is simply remarkable given the numerous impediments she encountered. She is the epitome of the rags to riches success story -- as well an example of what guts and determination really mean. While the biography is well written -- it's the facts themselves that make Madame Walker's story so intriguing and inspiring. Walker went from extreme poverty to wealthy business owner, civil rights leader, and philanthropist.

Madame Walker grew up extremely poor in Mississippi, prior to and through the turn of the century, in a society that perpetuated violence on African Americans in frightening proportions. Not only did she have to endure the racism and violence of society at large, but her own home life was destitute and abusive as well. She moved to Saint Louis, becoming a laundress and caring for her daughter -- furnishing her with the best education and protective home life that she could muster given low wages and living in poorer neighborhoods. In an effort to make her and her daughter's life better she became a sales agent for hair care products, and seeing the potential to branch out on her own with her own formula, she gradually built a large, national sales force and began manufacturing her own hair care products. As a result she became one of the wealthiest women in America.

Walker was able to accomplish this despite extreme barriers. First, racism and sexism, especially in turn of the century America, could alone have stymied any ambitions she had. She clearly, however, had the help of the African American community, and that her product was marketed primarily to women and African Americans meant that she faced only one tough competitor in this niche market. Her vision allowed her build this into something more substantial -- a national brand name and sales force. Lacking formal education, she certainly chose those who helped her run her business wisely. And she overcame husbands (three in all, two that we know much about) who, in the long run, did more to hinder than help her.

What is truly heart warming about Walker is what she did once she became wealthy. She gave freely of her money to a wide range of causes to help her local communities, the African American community, the poor, civil rights organizations, and African American soldiers during World War I. She was very vocal and active in the civil rights movements of time and was also active and vocal in national (African American) business associations. This -- plus continuing to travel widely to build up her business! It is shocking that she not more widely known for her philanthropy and for being a leader in the civil rights movement -- not to mention being such an astute businesswoman.

And she had GUTS! She stood up to Booker T. Washington and forced him to let her speak at a National Negro Business League convention. She actively helped organize and fund civil rights organizations. She must have been quite robust as well. She traveled widely across the United States and a few times overseas. In the early 1900's traveling to such an extent must have been physically and mentally exhausting.

Madame C.J. Walker was a living tribute to her local communities, her race, and the nation. She deserves more than a postage stamp to commemorate her life.

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