Episode 148: Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker

Posted 17 March 2020 by

Annie Turnbo Post Malone

Annie Turnbo Malone, circa 1920, via wikicommons, fair use

Netflix has created, Self Made, a limited series on the life of Madam C.J. Walker starring Octavia Spencer. This series is only “based on” her life so we figured that a refresher of the facts was important. However, we know that Madam C.J. Walker got her hair care education, her business template, and her professional start thanks to Annie Malone and her Poro college, and Annie entered the Millionaires Club before the woman who usually gets credit for it. We thought Annie deserved a little time in the spotlight, too.

Annie Minerva Turnbo was born on August 9, 1877 (or 1869, but we are fairly sure it’s the former) the daughter of formerly enslaved parents, Robert and Isabel Cook Turnbo, in Metropolis, Illinois.

See? “Born 1869.” Who do we talk to about this error? via Find A Grave

Annie’s parents died when she was fairly young, and she was raised by a sister in Peoria, Illinois. Annie’s health wasn’t so great, so her school attendance was spotty, but what she absolutely loved to do was style hair. An interest in chemistry and an aunt who was an herbalist gave Annie the tools she needed to create a product designed specifically for the scalps and hair of African American women.

Annie’s product was a hit! A move to the big city of Saint Louis, Missouri allowed Annie to make a great deal of money by developing her products and training a sales force of agents from around the world to sell her Poro products. One agent was Sarah Breedlove Davis who set off for Colorado specifically to sell Poro products and soon become Madam C. J. Walker with her own hair care business.

Annie did some things very, very well. She invented products that worked and people loved, she trained women to improve their economic situation, and she gave back a great deal of her salary and time to her community. What she didn’t do so well was pick husbands. Annie had a couple of marriages, the first to Nelson Pope, the second to Aaron Malone and both ended in divorce. The first marriage was fast, but Malone’s was messy.  After 13 years, a long, bitter, and public divorce hit Annie’s finances, a headquarter move to Chicago, and more legal issues (like unpaid taxes…a lot of unpaid taxes) further depleted her bottom line.

Annie died on May 10, 1957, and is buried at the Burr Oak Cemetary in Worth, Illinois.

 

Madam C. J. Walker

 

This, a remastered 2016 episode, is Beckett’s conversation about Walker with Alaia Williams, then a podcaster, now a business strategist and organizer, you can read more about her here: ALAIA’S WEBSITE . 

For shownotes and things they discussed, head on over to Episode 67

 

TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS

Madam C.J. Walker’s recommendations are on the shownotes for Episode 67, but this is a fresh conversation about Annie Malone so the materials are related to her.

BOOKS!

By John Whitfield, the best bio Susan could find on Annie.

 

By Shomari Wills, a good overview of very successful African Americans.

 

By Ayana D. Bird and Lori L. Tharpe

 

And the excellent dissertation that Beckett was talking about by Chajuana V. Trawick. It’s not a book but it sure is long enough and took as much (or more) time and research than a lot of books we read.

WEB!

The Annie Malone Children’s and Family Services Center in St. Louis has quite a few programs, including an annual community

service day and parade.

There is a website dedicated to Annie, aptly named, the Annie Malone Historical Society with a lot to play around with and tons of pictures and the Freeman Institute has a nice article with great pictures.

National Museum of African American History and Culture is in Washington…but also online where you can find her papers all digitized and a delightful rabbit hole of the history of black hair care.

Rabbit Hole about James Magee, and the newspaper “article” about the divorce that skews hard toward Aaron, gee wonder how that happened? (We sigh a lot over here.)

If we’re all released from our social distancing quarters by then, Metropolis, Illinois has a Superman Festival in June, 2020. Here’s some information on it. If you’ve been, we would love to hear about it! Join us in our private Facebook group, The History Chicks Podcast Lounge, and share your experiences!

 

FILM!

Self Made starring Octavia Spencer and Tiffany Haddish is based on the life of Madam C.J. Walker and drops on Netflix Friday, March 20th!

Black Hair Empire is currently in production. To follow the news of this documentary, visit their website BLACK HAIR EMPIRE or follow their Facebook page.

 

We would like to take a moment to thank the sponsors of this episode! If you use their links and codes that makes you a sponsor, too! Thank you all!

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