The Introduction presents the book’s main argument that Madam C.J. Walker was not simply a charitable entrepreneur, but rather a great African American and American philanthropist who practiced a distinctive racialized and gendered approach to giving that simultaneously relieved immediately felt needs in her community and thwarted the systemic oppression of the Jim Crow system. The chapter begins by articulating Walker’s embodied philosophy of philanthropy as a “gospel of giving” that started in her twenties when she was a poor, suffering migrant in St. Louis and expanded as she gradually acquired wealth and other resources over time. Her model of giving contrasted greatly with prevailing contemporary approaches by elite white male and female philanthropists who waited until late in their lives to give after accumulating or acquiring wealth. The chapter explores reasons for the absence of Walker and African American donors from major historical fields that have examined philanthropic giving in America. It uses black women’s history to overcome this omission by situating Walker within the larger context of the activism, community work, and fundraising of nineteenth- and twentieth-century black clubwomen, churchwomen, and educators. The chapter constructs generosity as a framework for naming and reclaiming black women as philanthropists. It concludes by noting how Walker, as an example of black women’s giving, challenged core assumptions about the relationship between philanthropy and wealth, women, African Americans, and business. The result is a presentation of black women’s generosity as a long-standing, deeply rooted historical tradition of philanthropy that is alive and well today.
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