If the name Madam C.J. Walker doesn’t automatically ring a bell, shame on you. Born to ex-slaves under the name Sarah Breedlove in 1867, Walker went from working in the cotton fields to launching her own cosmetics and haircare business for black women. In the process she became the nation’s first black female millionaire.
Walker’s accomplishments aren’t going unnoticed today. She recently became the 21st African American honored on a commemorative postage stamp in the Black Heritage series. But unlike past honorees such as Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., W.E.B. Du Bois and Jackie Robinson, Walker is the first African American entrepreneur to be honored by the U.S. Postal Service.
But the event didn’t occur without much prodding from Walker’s great-great granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles. With the Postal Service receiving well over 40,000 suggestions a year for honorees, it was an uphill battle to get the Walker stamp to stick in the minds of postal executives. Bundles worked for two years building grassroots support to bring the stamp to life. “There hadn’t been any African American entrepreneurs represented on postal stamps before, and that’s something our community needs to pay more attention to,” she says. “We need to think about our own economic empowerment, and I thought she was a perfect person to represent that spirit.” Bundles ultimately received over 70,000 signatures, including endorsements from Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun and Dorothy Height of the National Council of Negro Women.
Walker’s spirit will also live on in another form. On November 7, the first annual Madam Walker Spirit Awards will take place in Indianapolis honoring African American female entrepreneurs. For more information, contact the Madam Walker Theatre Center at 317-236-2099.