Madam Walker was a master marketer. But her brilliance was in taking it to another level by training women, by traveling, by making very motivational speeches and by providing independent income for women who otherwise would have to be maids and sharecroppers.
Why is she Mrs. C.J. Walker? It really was a matter of her trying to insist that people respect her, because during that time, white people would call any black woman 'Sally.' 'Aunt Sally.' So this was like... you can't call me that.
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.
My mother was the fourth generation of women to have worked with the Walker company. As a little girl, I would go to her office while she worked. She was a very capable woman.
A'Lelia Walker did not subsidize specific writers, but she provided a place for all kinds of people to gather. She was one of the few blacks who had the money to allow her to entertain in the large scale.
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.
Madam Walker was a woman who transformed herself in a very American, rags-to-riches way.
There is a core of people who know and love Madam C.J. Walker, but there's a much larger audience who don't really know about her. I think 'Self Made' will give people a window into her life.
I wrote my first report about Madam Walker when I was a senior in high school in 1970.