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Entrepreneur, Activist and Philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker

By Norma Stanley | December 2022

A tenant of starting a business is identifying a gap in the marketplace and finding a way to fill that gap for customers. Madam C.J. Walker, the child of former slaves, is a renowned historical figure, successfully exemplified putting that tenant into action, when it was rare for Black men to have their own companies, much less for black women.

As a result of her own challenges with hair loss due to a scalp condition and determined to improve upon a product that resolved the issue created by another Black woman, Annie Malone, another black woman entrepreneur. After coming up with her own ingredients, Walker manufactured and promoted Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. “The Walker Method” of hair care, became extremely successful and propelled her to become the first black millionaire in America.

The ”Walker Method” recognized and leveraged the lack of hair products for Black Americans, which was being overlooked. To answer that unrealized demand, Walker and her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker, traveled the country for years promoting and selling her hair care products door-to-door, demonstrating her scalp treatments at churches and lodges.

The Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, which grew to include cosmetics, was one of the first direct selling companies, which helped improve the lives of many in the black community. By devising sales and marketing strategies and training black beauticians and sellers of the products, Walker assisted in improving the economic status of those working for and with her.

Toward the end of her life, Walker stepped back from the everyday management of her companies and conducted charitable tours, where she visited the Caribbean and Latin America and donated a sizable portion of her wealth to charities working both within and outside the United States. At the end of Walker’s life, her net worth was about $600,000, which in today’s value, would be about $8 million.

A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great, great granddaughter, is a renowned author and journalist, and Walker’s brand historian, who founded the Madam CJ Walker Family Archives and has written biographies about the amazing women in her family. This includes Madam C J Walker and Walker’s daughter, Harlem Renaissance Icon, A’Lelia Walker. Her books were the source of Self-Made, the fictional four-part NetFlix movie series about Walker’s life and success, starring Oscar-winner, Octavia Spencer.