African American History
November 23, 2009
“The Glory of A Woman Lies in Her Hair”
The multibillion dollar hair care industry today owes much of its success to Madam C.J.
Walker. Her ability to create an extremely successful and dedicated enterprise during the early
18th century is illustrated in On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker
written by her great-great-granddaughter A’ Lelia Bundles. Throughout this book, the author
makes a correlation between Madam C.J. Walker’s strength, drive, and pledge to help other black
women become successful with her desire to transform black women’s hair into something
strong, graceful, elegant, and above all else, healthy. Bundle demonstrates Madam C.J. Walker’s
dedication to helping African-American women and the race by using her self-achieved wealth to
grant scholarships and jobs to poor blacks. A’ Lelia Bundles artfully lays out the life Madam C.J.
Walker made for herself through the use of quotes and stories thereby describing the transforma-
tion Sarah Breedlove made from being a poor sharecropper to becoming Madam C.J. Walker; a
sophisticated, self-made millionaire and philanthropist during a devastatingly racist time.
Although Madam C.J. Walker was born and raised in an environment that was not condu-
cive to prosperity, ambition, or independence, some of her experiences as a young child gave
birth to these concepts. Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867 to
parents Minerva and Owen Breedlove in the Delta of Louisiana.
Sarah was born into a poor
family and after her parents death, when she was a little younger than ten years old, she was
forced to live with her older sister and cruel uncle, causing her to start fending for herself at a
very young age. This in turn instilled a sense of independence and drive in Sarah that explains
her unprecedented successfulness in the future. Sarah’s uncle was said to have beaten, abused,
threatened, and taunted her, planting a seed that would later blossom into her resilient attitude,
one of the keys to Sarah’s ability to gain prominence. After moving to Vicksburg with her sister
1 A’ Lelia Bundle,
On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker (Washington Square
Press: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2002) p. 210.