Many made contributions for Black History Month
Self-Made Millionaire: Madam C.J. Walker was born on a cotton plantation in Louisiana and became wealthy after inventing a line of African American hair care products. She established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories and was also known for her philanthropy.
Who Was Madam C.J. Walker?
Madam C.J. Walker invented a line of African American hair products after suffering from a scalp ailment that resulted in her own hair loss. She promoted her products by traveling around the country giving lecture-demonstrations and eventually established Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories to manufacture cosmetics and train sales beauticians.
Widely recognized as the first self-made female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, née Sarah Breedlove, developed a line of innovative hair-care and skincare products for African-Americans that bolstered them with hygienic pride. Though she initially started out hawking the products of her financially-savvy mentor Annie Turnbo Malone (who many dispute as the true first Black self-made millionairess), the self-proclaimed hair culturalist and marketing magician broke away by developing her own product range and achieved ultimate success within a dozen years by expanding her product reach from door-to-door, by mail-order catalogue and “hair culture” colleges. In 2016, Sundial Brands, manufacturer of SheaMoisture, reintroduced her culturally-rich legacy to the millennial set by rolling it out to a multitude of Sephora doors.
Her business acumen led her to be one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. She was also known for her philanthropic endeavors, including a donation toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913. Walker’s life was portrayed in the 2020 TV show Self Made, with Octavia Spencer portraying Walker.
Oscar Winner: In 1940, Hattie McDaniel was the first African American performer to win an Academy Award—the film industry’s highest honor—for her portrayal of a loyal slave governess in Gone With the Wind.
First Professional Black Baseball Player: On April 5, 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play Major League Baseball when he joined the Brooklyn Dodgers. He led the league in stolen bases that season and was named Rookie of the Year.
First Black Billionaire: Before Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan joined the billionaire’s club, Robert Johnson became the first African American billionaire when he sold the cable station he founded, Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 2001.
First Black President: In 2008, Barack Obama became the first Black president of the United States.
First Black Vice President: In January 2021, Kamala Harris became the first woman of African or Asian descent to become vice president. Harris’s mother immigrated to the United States from India and her father immigrated from Jamaica.
Population Growth: The Black population of the United States in 1870 was 4.8 million; in 2019, the number of Black residents of the United States 46.8 million.