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  • Writer's pictureBrian Powers

Episode 46 - Self, Made

This is yet another one of those "why isn't this a movie" stories, except it actually IS...ish. It's a limited series from Netflix, released in 2020. So go see the more fleshed out version there!

What I like about this story is that she isn't just the first self-made Black female millionaire - she's the first self-made female millionaire, PERIOD. At a time when Black women struggled twice as hard as Black men for opportunity and recognition, when Jim Crow and the Black Codes were beating much of the country back into a new slavery, when the fever of white supremacy first began to crest, she managed to fight her way to the top. And she brought as many along for the ride as possible.

Alright, here's where we have to talk about an uncomfortable side to this whole thing - see, there was ANOTHER orphaned young Black girl who built an empire on her formula for hair products. Her name was Annie Turnbo Malone, and she founded her business before Sarah Breedlove Walker. In St. Louis. In 1902. She opened a shop, became wildly successful, and trained other African American sales agents to sell her products. And Sarah Breedlove was one of those. When she left for Denver and started Madam C.J. Walker, Annie Turnbo Malone accused Breedlove Walker of stealing HER formula. It may even well have been that Malone was richer than Breedlove Walker and might have beaten her there, but there was never a way to verify it. So Malone, despite doing the literal same thing, starting earlier and building bigger, will always seem like a footnote to the Madam Walker story. The reality is that the latter was actually a copy of the former, from the business startup to the philanthropic later years.

Still, what BOTH women did was impressive and incredible. So how about a hand for both?

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