Madame C. J. Walker was one of the first women and one of the first African Americans to become a self-made millionaire.
Walker was born in the USA in 1867. Her parents and all five siblings were born into slavery. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation giving freedom to more than 3.5 million African American slaves in the USA. Walker was thus the first of her family to be born a free person and not in slavery.
Walker’s mother died when she was 6 years old and her father died when she was 7 years old. Walker lived with her elder sister and worked as a child domestic servant. At age 14 she was married and had a daughter. However, her first husband died when she was 20. She married again but it was an abusive marriage that quickly ended. Facing great poverty, she married a third time to Charles Joseph Walker, a travelling salesman. She also chose to be addressed as Madame C. J. Walker.
It was soon after her third marriage that Walker found that she was losing her hair. When looking for a solution to her problem she noticed that many African American women faced the same challenges. Walker tried out the hair care products of a company called Anne Malone. She soon became a sales agent for Anne Malone.
However, Walker was dissatisfied with the Anne Malone products and developed her own hair care products. She sold her products through agents going door to door, as well as via mail-order and a growing number of C J Walker branded hair salons. Walker hired many African American women and her advice to them was, “Girls and women of our race must not be afraid to take hold of business endeavor and, by patient industry, close economy, determined effort, and close application to business, wring success out of a number of business opportunities that lie at their doors”.
Her advice to her fellow African American women is applicable to all of us. She advised:
- Start your own business: “Open your own shop; Secure prosperity and freedom.”
- Be proactive: “Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them”.
- Do not give up: “Perseverance is my motto”.
- Work hard: “If I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard“.
Walker never forgot her poor beginnings, saying, “I am not ashamed of my humble beginning”. As the Company grew rapidly Walker began to contribute substantially towards philanthropy, primarily targeted at helping African American women. Her first duty, she said, was “to humanity.”
Walker died in 1919 at the age of 51. Her parting advice was that people are not beautiful or ugly “in their face, but in their thoughts. So never get impressed by someone’s appearance, rather dig deep down into their thoughts to reveal the real person inside out.”
© Kaikhushru Taraporevala