Thursday, February 16, 2017


For Black History Month this year, HB will re-publish some of the archival history posts that are now half a decade old themselves.  Many of the Harlem Renaissance figures are noted for their accomplishments by historians but little has been preserved uptown to mark the places they lived in or established during that remarkable decade.  

Before Oprah, there was Madame C.J. Walker, who became one of the wealthiest women in the world during a time when self-made millionaires were exclusively male. Born as Sarah Breedlove in 1867 to former slaves in Louisiana, the woman who would become Madame C.J. Walker would eventually find her way to Denver, Colorado to work with African-American hair product entrepreneur, Annie Malone. With that experience and marrying Charles Joseph Walker by 1906, Madame C.J. Walker would change her name and start her own business of hair and beauty items targeted specifically for African-Americans in her husband's hometown, St. Louis. A divorce would come about the next year, and Madame Walker would move her growing business to Indianapolis. With dedicated hard work and self-promotion, Madame C.J. Walker would be the first woman to be a self-made millionaire in the 20th century.

As the business grew, Madame Walker's company would eventually expand to New York City and include philanthropy as part of her legacy. By 1917, as the largest African-American business in the United States, the Madame C.J. Walker company would provide employment for many African-Americans in the early industrial years of the 1900's. The Harlem Renaissance was close at hand and Madame Walker and her daughter A'Lelia would move to New York City to be nearer to the hub of African-American society in America. Some of their properties included Villa Lewaro in upstate New York and a townhouse on West 136th Street, which would eventually become the Dark Tower, a famous salon and cultural center during the Harlem Renaissance years.

Passing away in 1919 at the Villa Lewaro estate, Madame Walker would donate two-thirds of her fortune to African-American charities and causes. Her daughter A'Lelia would carry on the family business and become a key figure in the Renaissance years of the 1920's.

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