If you've been wondering what to add next to your TV watch list, you've probably heard about Netflix's newest limited series Self Made. The story is inspired by the life of one of America's first self-made female black millionaires - Madam CJ Walker - and features Oscar-winning actor Octavia Spencer in the lead role. But who exactly is Madam CJ Walker?
Sarah Breedlove - who later became known as Madam CJ Walker - was born in 1876 in Louisiana and worked as a cook before going on to make her fortune by producing hair products for black women.
Before creating her own beauty line, Madam CJ Walker - who suffered hair loss as a result of a scalp ailment - started selling black hair products invented by an entrepreneur called Annie Malone. In the Netflix series, Annie (called Addie Monroe) is played by Selma actress Carmen Ejogo and the pair's rivalry over the years after Walker started her own company is well-documented.
In 1906, she married Charles Walker and became known as Madam C. J. Walker. Her husband became her business partner and worked on the brand's advertising and marketing. Four years later the pair moved to Indianapolis where they opened the headquarters for the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. As the company continued to grow, she recruited more and more female sales agents and trained them up at her own beauty school.
"At a time when unskilled white workers earned about $11 a week, Walker’s agents were making $5 to $15 a day, pioneering a system of multilevel marketing that Walker and her associates perfected for the black market," a Harvard Professor wrote in TIME in 1998.
"More than any other single businessperson, Walker unveiled the vast economic potential of an African-American economy, even one stifled and suffocating under Jim Crow segregation."
As well as running her business empire, she was also a leading philanthropist who was determined to improve the lives of other black women. She also donated money to educational institutions and the NAACP's anti-lynching fund.
Watch Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C. J. Walker on Netflix now
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