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.
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.
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.
For some people, success is a zero sum game. They think that if they push other people out of the way, fewer people can compete with them. That's one way of seeing the world. It's dog eat dog. It's, sadly, always going to be there.
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.
I have lived almost seven decades. So I've had my hair journey where I wasn't comfortable with my hair.
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.
God puts pack rats together with non-pack rats.
If you wear your hair straight or natural, it's all fine with me. It doesn't mean that you aren't politically conscious or that you don't have good thoughts about progress.
Through the years, Madam Walker has certainly become a staple of anything that has to do with black history, women's history and entrepreneurship.