She was born Sarah Breedlove on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana, where her parents had been slaves. At 14, she married to get a home of her own, to get away from a cruel brother-in-law with whom she was living. At 17, she had her only child, A'Lelia, who I'm named after.
Madam C.J. Walker was born in 1867, two years after the civil war ended. She was a daughter of a slave. She had no formal education. Both her parents died by the time she was seven. Yet, by the time she died in 1919 at age 51, she was one of the most successful businesswomen America had ever seen.
From the beginning, Madam C. J. Walker's message was as much about hair and beauty as it was about empowering other women. She knew that confidence and self-assurance are key ingredients to success, and that true beauty comes from within.
Both my parents worked at the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, with my dad eventually being hired by another company called Summit Laboratories that made chemical hair straighteners.
Many people have told me that once they learn of Madam Walker's accomplishments they are surprised, even embarrassed, that they have never heard of her. But they shouldn't be. Her extraordinary story was simply omitted from the history books.
To her credit, Madam Walker discerned that black women wanted to conform to white Victorian models of beauty. She was aware of the double- sidedness of her products - helping black women appear more European in look, with straight hair - but she always maintained that she was simply selling products that promoted hair growth.
A lot of people think Oprah is channeling for Madam Walker, and there are lots of parallels.
Madam Walker's legacy lives in her philanthropy as well as in an amazing line of hair care products.
As one of the pioneers of modern hair care and cosmetics, Madam Walker is still an inspiration to a lot of people going into the business.
I've always been fascinated by Madam Walker's ability to use her money for political causes. I find her story so inspires people that it gives me great joy to share the story.