Updated: Feb 6, 2020
When it comes to Black History and the city of Indianapolis, it's almost impossible not to mention the name Madam C.J. Walker. There's been a lot of buzz around the history and legacy of Madam C.J. Walker recently, especially with the news of LeBron James producing a Netflix series over the life of the Indianapolis icon.
Madam C.J. Walker was born in 1867, just two years after the conclusion of the Civil War, in the state of Louisiana. Walker was the FIRST SELF-MADE female millionaire in America, regardless of race, and her business was headquartered right here in Indianapolis, Indiana.
She made her name, and money, through hair products.
History.com - In 1905 Walker, who had been losing her hair, sought a treatment for the condition. The method of beauty culture she developed revolutionized black hair care. The combination of scalp preparation, application of lotions, and use of iron combs became known as the “Walker system.”
She distinguished her products from the hair straighteners advocated by white cosmetic firms, arguing that her treatment was geared to the special health needs of blacks. She sold her homemade products directly to black women, using a personal approach that won her customers and eventually a fleet of loyal saleswomen.
If you've been reading any of my posts so far this year, you're familiar with the new theme of the site, "Discovering who we are, through discovering where we are".
I try not to focus on exactly what happened, all of that information can be found elsewhere. I like to touch on a piece of history and then apply to the world we live in today, as well as to my life directly.
Just as history has a weird way of always making sense, I feel like my life does as well. Even things that seem unexplainable, begin to explain themselves as time goes on.
About one year ago I met Marla Godette, just completely by chance while she was with a group at the Indiana State Museum. I was wearing my "Women Are Powerful And Dangerous" Crew and it happened to catch her eye.
Long story short, we talked for a little while, I learned that Marla is a mental health professional and mentors multiple kids in the South Bend/Michiana area. Marla learned that I have a passion for telling stories and educating people in unique ways. I ended up going to South Bend last May to attend a Black Mental Health Fair that Marla was hosting.
The reason why I bring all of this up is because around a month ago, Marla hit me up with a story to tell. It was then my job to connect an element of Indiana history with an element of Marla's life.
As Walker was getting started in the hair care industry, there were no products that were manufactured explicitly for the women that looked like her. Rather than accepting the current reality as fact, Walker made a new reality, as she began creating products for herself and other black women.
Madam C.J. Walker was a hustler, traveling across the country promoting her products and her methods. As her business continued to grow exponentially she moved operations to the 'Crossroads of America', Indianapolis.
Towards the end of 2018, I witnessed the 'Liberation of Marla Godette' via her Facebook feed. Marla had shaved her head, and publicly announced that she had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). One of the symptoms or effects of PCOS is gradual hair loss.
Marla and I spoke on the phone in January about the attachment that we all to feel to our hair. In a world where we can look however we want to, I think it's most important to look like yourself. We should not feel trapped in our own bodies, or feel as if we need to look any certain way.
Madam C.J. Walker was looking to liberate the black women of America as she dedicated her life to giving them the choice to look how THEY wanted to. With many products on the shelves for white women, Walker looked to give her people CHOICE. She was a determined woman, looking to empower the women she encountered.
Walker gave back to her community, donating money to help build a YMCA in downtown Indianapolis. She also built her iconic theater on Indiana Avenue, right in the epicenter of the city's black community.