Madam Walker’s 1917 Convention: Entrepreneurship & Protest Politics

On the 100th Anniversary of the NAACP’s Silent Protest March against racial injustice in New York City, I want to share the words of Madam C.J. Walker, who, although more well known for her business acumen, was a staunch, outspoken advocate for civil rights: “This is the greatest country under the sun, but we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice. We should protest, until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis race riot be forever impossible.” Madame C.J. Walker, exhorting her agents to support the Silent Protest Parade, July 28th, 1917.  Walker served on the NAACP organizing committee for the march.

 

Madam Walker/A'Lelia Walker Family Archives

On August 31, 1917, Madam C. J. Walker hosted the first national convention of her Walker “beauty culturists” at Philadelphia’s Union Baptist Church. More than 200 women from all over the United States gathered to learn about sales, marketing and management at what was one of the earliest professonal gatherings of American women entrepreneurs.

Walker–who founded her Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company during the spring of 1906 in Denver after marrying her third husband, Charles Joseph “C.J.” Walker, earlier that year–had first begun selling hair care products in St.

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