The Rise of Black Women After Slavery


The Rise of Black Women After Slavery. Racial discrimination was so real during the pre-colonial times. Most blacks were being transported by colonial merchants to the west and traded as slaves. This practice resulted in the whites dominating and blacks being the minorities. The wealth and high status were all accorded to whites. However, with time some blacks developed a desire to share in the American pie.

Because of determination and hard work, they established their empires and rose to the top. This article narrates about two black women who became millionaires after slavery. These women include Madam CJ Walker and Annie Malone. The latter contributed to the rise of Madam CJ Walker.

Annie Malone

Annie was an American entrepreneur and a philanthropist. History documents her among the earliest African women to become millionaires. Amid the 20th century, she established and developed a large and prominent commercial and educational enterprise dealing with African women’s cosmetics.

Early Life of Mrs. Annie

Annie Malone, whose other name is Turnbo, was born on 9th August 1877 to Robert and Isabella Turnbo in Metropolis, Illinois. Her parents were both initially enslaved Africans. Annie had ten siblings who she grew apart from. Both her parents died, leaving her orphaned at a tender age. She went to a public school in Metropolis during her early period before moving in with her sister in 1896.

While living with her sister, she joined a high school, from which she took chemistry as her favorite subject. However, because her health condition was not stable, she had to drop the subject. Nevertheless, Annie developed an interest in hair. She became so interested in hair types, challenges undermining hair growth, and hairdressing at large. She often practiced doing her sister’s hair.

With expertise from chemistry and healthcare, Mrs. Annie began developing her hair care products that she often applied to her hair. During those times, women with long hair were having a difficult time maintaining their hair growth. They used goose fat, heavy oils, soap, or bacon grease to straighten their curls. And that severely damaged both their scalp and hair. Therefore quality hair food products and shampoos had become a necessity in the cosmetics industry.

Her Occupation

At the onset of the 1900s, Annie relocated with her older siblings to Brooklyn, Illinois. Her urge to develop hair products was still on. She kept experimenting using different hair products that she had created. She even established her line for non-damaging hair straighteners, special oils, and stimulant products for black American women. She dabbed her product line, “Wonderful Hair Grower.” Getting people to know her product was quite challenging because she was black, and blacks did not have connections. Therefore Annie decided to put her products in small bottles and sell them door to door. Her productive impressed many as a result were overwhelming.

In 1902, Mrs. Turbo moved to St. Louis, where she employed three workers to help her sell her hair products from door to door. As a strategy to lure more customers, Mrs. Annie gave away free treatments to her customers. It was not long before many started asking for her products. She had received massive support from her customers. She, therefore, decide to put up her first shop in 1902 at 2223 Market Street. She toured many south African States, launched endorsements, advertised her products, and recruited many women she trained and joined her business.

It was not long before her products went international. North America, South America, Africa, and the Philippines all had access to her products. One of her selling agents, Sarah Davis, famous as Madam CJ Walker, also grew from Annie’s cosmetics business. As Mrs. Turbo’s business had outgrown her shop, she decided to move to a larger facility on 3100 Pine Street to expand her shop.

In 1918, Annie established a cosmetology college, which she named Poro. In her college, she trained learners to derive the poro formula, which was the secret behind her hair products. The college considered a manufacturing plant, a retail store with poro products, dining and meeting rooms, gymnasium, bakery, chapel, etc. The college sure offered not only social services but also religious. Mrs. Annie would then employ those who had gained the experience at her shop in St Louis.

Her business was doing well until 1927, when her husband, who initially served as the president of her company, filed for divorce. He demanded a half share of the business, claiming he equally contributed to the company’s success. With support from employees and close friends, she negotiated a settlement, paid off her husband, and granted him the divorce. Mrs. Annie then decided to relocate most of her business to Chicago South, where her business continued to thrive amid huddles.

As a philanthropist, Mrs. Annie made large donations to St Louis Colored Orphans Home, where she served as a president. She also supported local blacks in the diaspora. In 1922, the orphan’s home was renamed after her in her honor. On 10th May 1957, Annie suffered a stroke and died at Chicago’s Provident Hospital.

Madam CJ Walker

Madam CJ Walker, also known as Sarah Breedlove, was an American businesswoman, philanthropist, political and social activist. The Guinness Book of World records documents Mrs. Breedlove as the first female millionaire in America. Although some sources argue that other women might have been the first, their wealth is not well documented.


Early Life of Madam CJ Walker

Sarah was born on 23rd December 1867 to Owen and Minerva Breedlove. She had five siblings, four brothers, and one sister. Her siblings were victims of enslavement. They worked for the Madison Parish Plantation.  Out of her siblings, Sarah was lucky enough not be become a slave as, during that time, the Emancipation Proclamation was approved. Sarrah’s mother succumbed in 1872 after suffering from cholera. Her dad remarried but died later in the same year.

Therefore, Sarah became an orphan when she was only seven. At the age of ten, she decided to relocate to Vicksburg, Mississipi, where she stayed with her older sister Louvenia and her husband, Jesse Powell. She frequently worked as a domestic worker to meet her needs despite being a child. Often Sarah reflected on her life. She was being left orphan, with no opportunity and no one to depend on. While growing up, Sarrah had only attended school for three months; hence, thats all she had gained was literacy.

Marriage Life

Sarah got married at a very tender age. She was only 14 years when she tied knots with Moses McWilliams to escape poverty and abuses from her brother-in-law. The two, Sarah and Moses, were blessed with one daughter whom they named A’Lelia. However, in 1887, Sarrah’s husband passed away, leaving her dependent. So in 1894, Sarrah decided to remarry. Nevertheless, in 1993, Sarah left her second husband.

Around January 1906, Sarah married Charles Joseph Walker, who worked as a newspaper endorser in St Louis, Missouri. Through the marriage, Sarrah regained the nickname Madam CJ Walker. In 1912, Charles and Sarah divorced. And in 1926, Charles died. Sarah’s, daughter A’Lelia, later adopted his stepfather’s surname. She became A’Lelia Walker.

Madam CJ Walker’s Career

In 1888, Madam CJ and her daughter decided to move to St Louis, where three of her brothers lived. She started working as a laundress. However, she was not happy with her pay, for she barely made more than a dollar per day. She felt that hindering her dream to provide for her daughter a good education.

During those times, black women were having challenges with their hair. Sarah, for instance, suffered severe dandruff and other scalp ailments. These were attributable to the skin disorders unsuitable hair products they were using. Initially, Sarah had gained some knowledge on hair from her brothers, who worked as barbers in St Louis. Around that time, Annie Malone had come up with her hair products. She owned the Poro Company and made millions. Sarah went in search of a job at the company.

She offered to become a sales agent for selling Annie’s products. While working wing Annie, Sarah would take the products from door to door and urge people to purchase them. In the future, Sarrah develops her brand and becomes Annie’s biggest competitor in the hair care industry.

While working for Annie, Sarah gained some experience and developed an interest in establishing her hairline. In June 1905, Sarah, who was now 37 years moved with her daughter to Denver, Colorado. She continued to sell Annie’s products while developing her own hair care business. However, it was not long before Annie and Sarah got into a fight. Mrs. Malone accused Sarah of stealing her formula, which comprised of petroleum jelly and sulfur.

Nevertheless, Sarah pursued her ambition to own her hairline. She branded her business cosmetic creams. She started marketing her products from door to door, teaching other black women how to groom and style their hair. It was during that time that the name Madam CJ Walker became widespread.

In 1908, Sarah migrated to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she put up a beauty parlor and established Lelia college to train her hairdressers. Those who worked for her company used to earn generous commissions. Mrs. Sarah expanded her business to different parts, creating new connections.

On several occasions, she helped raise funds for the Indianapolis black communities. She also benefitted organizations, institutions, churches, etc. Madan CJ died on May 25th, 1919, after suffering from hypertension and kidney failure.


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