Chapter 4 discusses Walker’s gift of political and social activism and her leveraging of the number and voices of her agents to challenge Jim Crow. In a manner reflective of leading black women’s clubs and fraternal organizations of the day, Madam Walker organized her sales agents into local clubs and a national umbrella association to legitimize beauty culture as a profession, strengthen relations between them, and enlist them in doing charity and advocacy work in their communities that would last long after her death. The National Beauty Culturists’ and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents, Inc., developed a model of associationalism, ritualism, and activism that galvanized Walker agents to serve their communities and the cause of racial uplift. Through it, agents regularly donated money to black schools and other organizations, held fundraising events, organized programs, and cared for the vulnerable in their communities. Together, they sent a resolution to President Woodrow Wilson demanding legislative action against lynching. The chapter reviews Walker’s unique ability to interact with black women across class differences, as exhibited by her engagement of working-class women in her agent clubs and the elite black women of the era through the National Association of Colored Women (NACW). Through these clubs and their rituals, Walker agents staked claims for themselves as respectable professionals, performed charitable works in black communities, and used their formidable numbers to speak out against lynching and Jim Crow.
Keywords: activism, associationalism, ritualism, Walker Clubs, lynching, black fraternalism, Jim Crow, National Association of Colored Women, National Beauty Culturists’ and Benevolent Association, faith-based organizations, fraternal organizations
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