Walker, Madam C. J. ( Sarah Breedlove )
- A'Lelia Perry Bundles
“I got myself a start by giving myself a start,” Madam C. J. Walker often said of her unlikely personal transformation from an uneducated washerwoman into a hair care industry pioneer during the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Born Sarah Breedlove on a Delta, Louisiana, cotton plantation near the banks of the Mississippi River, she was the fifth of Owen and Minerva Anderson Breedlove’s six surviving children and the first freeborn Breedlove sibling. Her parents had been slaves on Robert W. Burney’s Madison Parish farm, which had been commandeered by General Ulysses S. Grant as a Civil War battle staging area during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg. Both parents died before Sarah’s eighth birthday.
Left orphans, Sarah and her younger brother Solomon moved with her married elder sister Louvenia Breedlove Powell across the river to Vicksburg around 1878 after a succession of failed cotton ...
A version of this article originally appeared in Black Women in America, 2nd ed.