Octavia Spencer's latest projects involves her transforming into Madam C.J. Walker, a black woman millionaires in the early 20th century. The Netflix limited series will tell the true and extraordinary story of a Louisiana native who went from laundering clothes to creating a million-dollar business.
PHOTO:: Hollywood's Black Renaissance
Ms. Walker was born on a plantation to two former slaves and was orphaned when she was just 7-years-old. Walker tended the fields to survive. She married at age 14, had a child four years later and become widowed two years after that. According to Refinery29, Walker then moved to St. Louis, Missouri, to be closer to her brothers and began laundering clothes for roughly $1.50 a day.
However, as she worked herself hard each day with thoughts of her then two-year-old daughter constantly running through her mind:
"As I bent over the washboard and looked at my arms buried in soapsuds, I said to myself: 'What are you going to do when you grow old and your back gets stiff? Who is going to take care of your little girl?'" she shared in an interview with The New York Times back in 1917.
She hit a realization that she yearned for another path — both having her daughter and starting to lose her hair — leading Walker to enter the haircare industry, creating products that were catered to black women such as shampoos, hair growth serums, hair straighteners and pomades.
Her haircare became a hit and Walker started to see earnings come in, soon making her a millionaire. She shared the wealth by donating thousands of dollars to organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and the Y.M.C.A, along with local churches and the Tuskegee Institute. Walker also utilized her name and power to give speeches and help fight inequality and abuse towards black people through organized protests.
Walker gave black women a sense of confidence that they hadn’t had before while also paving the way for other black women to create brands made specifically for black women. Walker also organized a union convention for her employees, The Madam C.J. Walker Hair Culturist Union of America Convention, which took place in Philadelphia in 1917. Her great-great-granddaughter and author of her biography, A’Lelia Bundles, shared some details on the convention:
"Madam Walker pulled together more than 200 women who came together to talk about business and making money and investments," shared Bundles, according to Refinery29. "At that convention she said, 'We care not just about ourselves, but others.' She gave prizes not just to the women who sold the most products, but the women who gave the most to charities.”
Bundles also shared that Walker was a great advertiser, "She would have been the queen of social media," Bundles says. "Her very first ad was in 1906, and it had a photograph of herself. In 1910, she had a three-picture triptych of a before-and-after. If she was traveling by train through a town too small to stop in, she would throw off little packets of fliers for local agents, with pictures and messages. That was her Instagram and Twitter.”
Madam C.J. Walker paved the way for many black, female entrepreneurs and many black-owned hair and beauty products. No rush, Netflix, but we can’t wait for this series!
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