Black Inventors Who Changed The World: Madame C.J. Walker
She went from the cotton fields of Louisiana to become the first self-made female millionaire of any race. Sarah Breedlove was born in 1867 to Owen and Minerva, sharecroppers and former slaves on a cotton plantation in Delta, Louisiana. She was the fifth child and the first to be born free since the Emancipation Proclamation. Sarah's life was marred with hardship, as she was orphaned at six or seven years old, married by 14, became a mother at 17, and a widow at age 20.
The silver lining is she made it, in spite of all. Sarah moved to St. Louis when her daughter, A'Leia, was two years old, and that's when her life began to improve. She joined the St. Paul African Episcopal Church, sang in the choir, and became an active member of the National Association of Colored Women. Sarah found love again and married Charles J. Walker, a man she would later name her company after. Inspiration for her hair empire began due to a scalp condition that caused most of her hair to fall out.
Sarah developed a scalp regimen called The Walker System that included iron combs, brushes, various hair oils, and lotions. Not only did she cure her condition, but her innovations also led to everyone wanting her system. Before long, she had an entire hairline, hired beauty culturists to sell her homemade products, opened a beauty school, and a factory. Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co. was born because of her ingenuity and talent. The rest is history.
See the movie based off the biography, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker, by Walker's great-granddaughter, A'Leia Bundles. On Netflix now, see Self Made, starring the phenomenal Octavia Spencer.