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Madam C. J. Walker's Gospel of GivingBlack Women's Philanthropy during Jim Crow$
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Tyrone McKinley Freeman

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780252043451

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252043451.001.0001

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Madam C. J. Walker's Gospel of Giving

Tyrone McKinley Freeman

University of Illinois Press

This chapter establishes the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company of Indiana as a “race company,” one organized by and for the benefit of African Americans. It was the institutional manifestation of Walker’s moral imagination and philanthropic commitments. Its structure and operations blended Walker’s commercial and philanthropic goals to provide the gift of opportunity to black women through employment despite the larger constraints of low-wage, exclusionary Jim Crow labor markets. Thousands of black women became financially independent, cared for their families, and gave back to their communities in the quest for freedom through their employment in the company as sales agents, beauty culturists, or salon owners. This approach was grounded in black self-help ideology and the health and hygiene work of black clubwomen. The chapter explains that the Walker Company effectively became a third “C” that Walker added to the church and the club as platforms for black women’s racial uplift activities. The chapter addresses critiques of the company related to women’s standards of beauty and multilevel marketing business strategies. It explores Walker’s business and familial-like relationship with key trusted adviser Freeman B. Ransom, a black corporate attorney, whom she employed to help run the company. He gave organization to her vision, ran daily operations, and administered her philanthropic giving while she traveled promoting the company. The chapter reveals their partnership in operating the company for both commercial gain and philanthropic uplift as the hub for implementing her gospel of giving.

Keywords:   Walker Company, Madam C J Walker Company, Freeman B Ransom, beauty culture, opportunity, Walker agents, fraternal organizations, philanthropy, women’s studies, African American studies

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