Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker, born December 23, 1867


"I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself 
for I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race."

Sarah Breedlove was born on December 23, 1867 in Delta, Louisiana. Her parents and elder siblings were slaves on a Madison Parish plantation owned by Robert W. Burney. Born two years after the end of the Civil War, Sarah was the first child in her family born into freedom.  Sarah was one of six children in the family.  She had an older sister, Louvenia and three older brothers: Alexander, James, and Owen Jr.  Her younger brother, Solomon, was born in 1869.

Robert W. Burney's land was confiscated by Union soldiers in 1865, but Breedlove’s
The Breedlove cabin, Delta, Louisiana
family remained there as sharecroppers after the war. In 1872, her mother died. Her father remarried and died shortly afterward. Sarah, orphaned by the age of seven, moved in with her sister, Louvenia, and brother-in-law, Willie Powell.


In 1874, when she would have entered first grade, public schools for black children in Louisiana were closed after the legislature refused to fund them and the Freedman’s Bureau disbanded its education division. Three years later, federal troops left the former Confederate states; their absence opened the way for a reign of terror that drove thousands of blacks from the South. The Breedlove brothers headed west, part of the "Exoduster" movement. 

Exodusters was a name given to blacks who migrated from Southern states after Reconstruction ended and Southern racists took over the local governments again. The number one cause of black migration out of the South at this time was to escape the Ku Klux Klan, the White League, and the Black Codes, which  not only legally and financially made second-class citizens of African Americans, but threatened their safety with violence and terrorism.  The Exodusters were more than migrants; they can more accurately be regarded as refugees. 

The depression of the 1870s served to exacerbate the racist policies of white merchants and planters, who sought to offset their agricultural losses by increasing prices and interest rates for Blacks.  Most Southern states completely undermined federal Reconstruction efforts to allow African American to achieve political freedom and economic equality with Whites. Thousands of blacks left the states of Mississippi and Louisiana; it was estimated that 1,600 left Madison Parish.  The number included Sarah's brothers.

Willie and Louvenia Powell, along with Sarah, moved across the Mississippi River to Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1877.  Sarah picked cotton, washed clothes, and did housework. She married a man named Moses McWilliams, later saying that "I married at the age of fourteen in order to get a home of my own."  On June 6, 1885, Sarah gave birth to a daughter, Leila. 

Moses died two years later, when Sarah was 20, and Lelia was just 2 years old.  No documentation exists for the causes of death for her parents or husband.


St. Louis, Missouri
Early in 1889Sarah McWilliams and her daughter moved to St. Louis, Missouri where three of her brothers, Alexander, James and Solomon, lived and worked as barbers. She managed to get work as a laundry woman, earning about a dollar a day.  

The St. Louis neighborhood where Sarah and her family lived was a place so dangerous that local police called it “the Bad Lands.” There were  many saloons, brothels, and cheap bathhouses.  Sarah joined St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, which, like other black churches of the time, had a congregation of  helpful people who offered her leads on jobs, advice on comportment, and some financial help.  She put Lelia, not yet five, into the hands of the St. Louis Colored Orphans Home for part of the week while she worked as a washerwoman.  As Lelia was considered to be half-orphaned, it was not unusual for single mothers to get such assistance from homes for orphans.

On August 11, 1894, Sarah married her second husband, John Davis.  He turned out to be a heavy drinker, financially unreliable  and unfaithful to her. As the breadwinner of the family, Sarah worked hard and struggled to provide for her daughter.  In her late twenties, her began hair to fall out, a condition probably owing to a combination of inadequate hygiene and stress. 


Lelia attended public schools in St. Louis, but her attendance and grades were spotty. When Lelia was 17, Sarah managed to send her to Knoxville College in Tennessee, where in spite of her age, she was admitted as a 7th grade student, rather than being enrolled in a college curriculum. The college offered high school classes as well as college. Knoxville College was rooted in a mission school established by the Presbyterian Church to educate the city's free blacks and freed slaves.In the 1870s, the church's Freedmen's Mission, decided to refocus its efforts on building a larger, better-equipped school in Knoxville. The school's first building was completed in 1876 and the school at the end of the year. The new school was primarily a training school for teachers, but also operated an academy for the education of local children. 

By this time, three of Sarah's brothers, Solomon, James and Alexander, had died of heart disease or tuberculosis.  Only Sarah, Louvenia and Owen were still alive.  Owen, however, had abandoned his second wife, Lucy, and  four daughters in Denver, Colorado, and his whereabouts were unknown.

After about ten years after their wedding, John Davis claimed that Sarah had deserted him and he moved in with his girlfriend, Susie.  Around the same time, Sarah began seeing Charles Joseph (“C.J.”) Walker, an advertising salesman for the St. Louis Clarion.  She also attended public night school whenever she could. 

Sarah's life began to change when she discovered the “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower” of
Annie Turnbo
Annie Turnbo-Pope (later Malone), an African American women from Illinois who had relocated her hair care business to St. Louis.  After using Turnbo’s products with success, Sarah began selling them as a local agent, working on commission.


Annie Minerva Turnbo had been born in Illinois, the daughter of escaped slaves.  Robert Turnbo enlisted with the Union troops in the Civil war, while her mother stayed with the children in Illinois.  Annie Turnbo was the 10th of 11 children; she was born in 1867, the same year as Sarah Breedlove.  She was also orphaned at a young age as Sarah had been, and was also taken in by an older sister.  Annie, however, was able to attend public schools in Illinois. She often practiced hairdressing with her sister, and began to develop her own hair care products.  She called one product “Wonderful Hair Grower, ” and sold  it door-to-door in Peoria.

Annie Turnbo moved to St. Louis in 1092, where she and three hired assistants sold her hair care products from door-to-door. As part of her marketing, she gave away free treatments to attract more customers. In 1903 she briefly married a Mr. Pope but soon divorced him.  Her products were sold under the name of "Roberts and Pope," as for a time she had a partner named L. L. Roberts. 
 In 1904, Turnbo-Pope opened her first shop, and also launched an advertising campaign in the black press, held news conferences, toured many southern states, and recruited many women whom she trained to sell her products.  St. Louis at the time held the fourth largest population of African Americans.  While in St. Louis,  she copyrighted her Poro brand beauty products. Her publicity materials said that "Poro" was a West African word meaning physical and spiritual growth.

In July 1905, Sarah McWilliams moved to Denver, Colorado, where her sister-in-law, Lucy Breedlove, and four nieces lived.  At first, her primary job was as a cook in a boarding house; she also sold Annie Turnbo-Pope's hair products. Within a year, she had saved enough money to resign from her job and sold haircare products door-to-door.  C.J. Walker came to Denver, and they married on January 4, 1906. 

Mrs. Sarah Walker, probably at the prompting of her new husband, who had worked in
newspaper advertising, paid to print a letter in Denver's newspaper, The Statesman, warning customers not to buy imitation products:
I wish to say to my customers to not be led into buying of [another hair culturist] and think you are buying the grower I represent, Roberts and Pope.  I represent the preparation bearing the label of Roberts and Pope and it can be secured only from me.
Mrs. C.J. Walker 
Within months, however, she began advertising a "Wonderful Hair Grower,"  product of "Madam C.J. Walker." She later claimed that she had a dream:
A big black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out
According to A'Lelia Bundles, in her biography of Madam Walker, On Her Own Ground:
Pope-Turnbo - and later Sarah - made much of their proprietary mixtures, but the real secret was a regimen of regular shampoos, scalp massage, nutritious food, and an easily duplicated, sulfur-based formula that neither of them had originated. 
The new Madam Walker  traveled around Colorado, from Pueblo to Trinidad to Colorado Springs and and back to Denver, selling her hair care products and training students in her treatment course.  Later, C.J. Walker tried to take the credit for the business, saying
I alone am responsible for the successful beginning of this business.  Otherwise the Mmd. would have taken the road for the Poro people.
In August, her daughter Lelia McWilliams arrived in Denver; she had taken a hair growing course in St. Louis in order to assist her mother.  They ran a small salon in the city.  Lelia ran the salon while Sarah traveled with her husband, lecturing, giving treatments, and developing a mail order business.  Annie Pope-Turnbo, having become aware of what was going on, had a letter printed in The Statesman:
The proof of the value of our work is that we are being imitated and largely by persons whose own hair we have actually grown. . . . They have very frequently mentioned us when trying to sell their goods (saying that theirs is the same or just as good). . . . BEWARE OF IMITATIONS.
By May 1907, there was an announcement in The Statesman that Annie Pope-Turnbo had sent a new agent to Denver; a short time later, there was another announcement that Madam Walker and Miss McWilliams were closing their Denver hair parlor in order to open a business in another city.  Denver had a small black population, and the Walkers believed that they could do even better in the Northeastern United States.

In 1907, Sarah had sales of $3,652, which was almost three times her total 1906 earnings while she was still working as a Roberts-Pope agent.  (The relative purchasing power of $3,652 in today's money would be around $100,000.)  Most working black women made only between $100-250 a year as domestic servants; white men who worked in factories made $500-700 a year. 
Lelia College
After a period of travelling, the Walkers settled in Pittsburgh in 1908 and opened a factory and a beauty school, "Lelia College" to train "hair culturists."  In 1909, Lelia married a man named John Robinson in a ceremony performed by a justice of the peace.  Sarah Walker did not attend her daughter's wedding.  The newlyweds moved into a home in Pittsburgh, where Lelia continued to work for her mother's business.  

C.J. and Sarah Walker moved to Indianapolis, Indiana in 1910, and eventually purchased a
The Walker home in Indianapolis
two-story brick home with space for a hair salon, beauty school, factory, and laboratory. 
Madam Walker’s 12-room home had internal plumbing and steam heat, while her neighbors almost universally were using outhouses and pump wells, and along North West Street most residents continued to heat their homes with wood or coal. In 1910 Walker advertised space for boarders at her home.  In addition to bringing in more income, this was an important community service at during a time when most American hotels and restaurants did not accept black customers.  One of her boarding house residents was Freeman B. Ransom, a young attorney.  Born in 1882 in Mississippi, Ransom had studied law at Columbia University. After coming to Indianapolis in 1910, he stayed with Madam Walker and gave her legal help. He eventually became attorney and general manager of her company.
As Madam Walker continued to travel, publicize her products and company, and train hair culturists,  "Walker Agents" became well known throughout the black communities of the United States. They were encourage to promote Walker's philosophy of "cleanliness and loveliness" as a means of advancing the status of African-Americans. She developed a “Special Correspondence Course” business, founded on her System of Beauty Culture. By the end of 1910, her annual income was $10, 989, nearly three times what it had been in 1907.

In September 1911, with her attorney Freeman Ransom's assistance, Madam Walker petitioned the Indiana Secretary of State to become incorporated and the petition was granted.  The Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company of Indiana, Inc. began: Sarah Walker was the President and sole shareholder of all 1,000 shares of stock. 

Lelia, whose husband had left her within a year of their wedding, began calling herself "Mrs. Lelia Walker Robinson." 
Madam Walker and Lelia in their chaffeur-driven car
 
Sarah Walker's marriage was also stressful; C.J. Walker traveled frequently and had affairs with women in other cities.

During a visit to the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1912, Madam Walker introduced herself to Booker T. Washington. Booker Taliaferro Washington was the dominant African American leader in the country between 1890 and 1915. He had been born in slavery in 1856, and had become the leading voice of former slaves and their descendants. In 1895 his "Atlanta Compromise" called for avoiding confrontation over segregation and instead putting more reliance on long-term educational and economic advancement in the black community.  His message was that it was not the time to challenge segregation and the disfranchisement of black voters in the South. He mobilized a nationwide coalition of middle-class blacks, church leaders, and white philanthropists and politicians. 

While in Alabama, Madam Walker promoted her company, sold products, gave treatments, and recruited and trained more Walker agents in hair growing and hair care methods.  In Tuskegee, she opened an agency near the campus; the Walker representative was Dora Larrie, an Indianapolis woman. Her husband, C.J. Walker had an affair with Larrie, who pressured him to leave Madam Walker and go into business with her.  Larrie left Alabama and traveled with C.J. Walker to Atlanta, Georgia. Madam Walker learned of their affair and decided to divorce him.  Her attorney, Freeman Ransom, began the legal proceedings. 

Madam Walker
Meanwhile, in July 1912, Madam Walker traveled to Virginia for the National Association of Colored Women's convention (NACW).  Mary McLeod Bethune spoke at the opening session.  Bethune was an American educator and civil rights leader best known for starting a private school for black students in Daytona Beach, Florida.  She attracted donations of time and money, and developed the school as a college.  Born in 1875 in South Carolina to parents who had been slaves, she started working in fields at age five. She took an early interest in becoming educated; with the help of benefactors, Bethune attended college hoping to become missionary in Africa.  Her school later was known as the Bethune-Cookman School. Bethune maintained high standards and promoted the school with tourists and donors, to demonstrate what educated African Americans could do. Bethune once said
No matter how deep my hurt, I always smiled. I refused to be discouraged, for neither God nor man can use a discouraged person.
Later the same year, Madam Walker attended the National Negro Business League (NNBL)
Booker T. Washington
convention in Chicago, Illinois; Booker T. Washington was the president, and controlled the agenda.  Washington and his entourage rebuffed her attempts to speak, and no women were included on the schedule of speakers.  
On the final day of the convention, Madam Walker shocked the audience when she got up to speak at the podium:
Surely you are not going to shut the door in my face. I feel that I am in a business that is a credit to the womanhood of our race. I am a woman who started in business seven years ago with only $1.50 . . . .This year (up to the 19th day of this month ) I had taken in $18,000. (Prolonged applause). This makes a grand total of $63,049 made in my hair business in Indianapolis. (Applause.) 
I went into a business that is despised, that is criticized and talked about . . .  I have been trying to get before you business people to tell you what I am doing. I am a woman that came from the cotton fields of the South; I was promoted from there to the wash-tub (laughter); then I was promoted to the cook kitchen, and from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. . . .
I am not ashamed of my past; I am not ashamed of my humble beginning. Don't think that because you have to go down in the wash-tub that you are any less a lady! (prolonged applause.)
Everybody told me I was making a mistake by going into this business . . . I have built my own factory . . . I employ in that factory seven people, including a bookkeeper,  a stenographer, a cook and a house girl . . . I own my own
Madam Walker at the wheel of her automobile


automobile . . . Now, my object in life is not simply to make money for myself or to spend it on myself in dressing or running around in an automobile . . . I love to use a part of what I make in trying to help others.
Shortly after she returned from Chicago, Freeman Ransom filed papers for her divorce from C.J. Walker.  The proceedings were complicated by the fact that there was no existing marriage license for the Walker marriage in Denver, and no divorce papers in St. Louis for her second marriage to John Davis.   Because Ransom had evidence for C.J. Walker's adultery, he was able to get a final divorce decree for his client.  C.J. Walker attempted to go into business with his family members, including his new wife, Dora Larrie, who he married in March 1913.  However, his business floundered, and he soon tried to reconcile with Madam Walker.  In March 1914, in a letter of public apology in the Indianapolis Freeman newspaper in March 1914, he wrote of Dora Larrie:
We were not married long before I discovered she did not love me, but that she only wanted the title Mme., and the formula.
He said that "drink and this designing evil woman" had come between him and Madam Walker.  He wrote to his ex-wife asking for money and work.  Freeman Ransom, as Madam Walker's attorney, sent him $35 and suggested he go to Key West, Florida: "keep sober and build up a big business."  C.J. continued to write to his ex-wife for the rest of his life: "I am writing these lines with tears dripping from my eyes."
Fairy Mae Bryant
A few weeks after her mother's divorce was granted, Lelia, who was 27 years old and
Lelia in 1913
childless, adopted a fatherless 13-year-old named Fairy Mae Bryant.  
As a child, Fairy Mae frequently visited relatives who lived in the Walkers' Indianapolis neighborhood. Their attention was caught by Fairy Mae’s thick, straight hair that hung past her waist caught their attention, and they asked to use her as a model for their advertising.  Later, Lelia promised Fairy Mae’s widowed mother, Sarah Hammond Bryant, that if she consented to an adoption, they would see that Fairy Mae got an education.  However, Mae was kept so busy for the company  that she did not return to school until she was 17. Her photograph was used in Walker ads for years.  

The Walker business continued to grow.  Freeman Ransom wrote to Lelia in 1913 that
Madam is in a fair way to be the wealthiest colored person in America.  I am ambitious that she be just that.  . . .  You will help me, won't you? . . . I want you to join me in urging Madam to bank a large portion of her money to the end that it be accumulating and drawing interest for possible rainy days.
In July 1913, Madam was thrilled when Booker T. Washington agreed to be her houseguest during his visit to Indianapolis.  Later that year, at the Fourteenth Annual Convention of the National Negro Business League held in Philadelphia, Madam Walker was on the schedule, explaining to the audience how she had succeeded in the business world:
In the first place I found, by experience, that it pays to be honest and straightforward in all your dealings. (Applause.) In the second place, the girls and women of our race must not be afraid to take hold of business endeavor and, by patient industry, close economy, determined effort, and close application to business, wring success out of a number of business opportunities that lie at their doors. . . . 
I have made it possible for many colored women to abandon the wash-tub for more pleasant and profitable occupation. (Hearty applause.) Now I realize that in the so-called higher walks of life, many were prone to look down upon "hair dressers" as they called us; they didn't have a very high opinion of our calling, so I had to go down and dignify this work, so much so that many of the best women of our race are now engaged in this line of business, and many of them are now in my employ. 
Madam Walker with Booker T. Washington in Indianapolis
Annie Pope-Turnbo was also at the convention; for the remainder of their lives, Annie and Sarah remained bitter rivals. Following the convention, Annie Turnbo married Aaron Malone, a former teacher and bible salesman. Annie Turnbo Malone, was by then worth well over a million dollars.  She built a five-story multipurpose facility in St. Louis; in addition to a manufacturing plant, it contained facilities for a beauty college, which she named Poro
A Poro College Graduating Class
College.
 The building included a retail store where Poro products were sold, business offices, a 500-seat auditorium, dining and meeting rooms, a roof garden, dormitory, gymnasium, bakery, and chapel. It served the African-American community as a center for religious and social functions.

Walker hired an architect to draw up plans for a new building to house the Walker business; she intended that the building, covering a whole city block, could serve as a social and cultural center for the African-American community in Indianapolis. A theater in the new building would welcome African Americans.  In addition to Annie Turnbo-Malone's example, she was also angered by an incident that occurred during a visit to a theater in Indianapolis.  Madam Walker, who loved going to the movies, went to the Isis Movie Theater and gave the ticket seller a dime, the standard admission. The agent pushed the coin back across the counter, saying that the price had gone up to 25 cents for "colored persons." Walker immediately asked Freeman Ransom to sue the theater.  In his complaint to the Marion County Court, he demanded $100 in damages for racial discrimination in a public place.
The Harlem townhouse

In the fall of 1913, Madam Walker traveled throughout the Caribbean promoting her business and recruiting others to teach her hair care methods. She visited Jamaica, Haiti, Costa Rica, Panama and Cuba. While her mother traveled, Lelia helped facilitate the purchase of property in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, recognizing that the area would be an important base for future business operations. The Harlem townhouse and Walker Salon were designed by Vertner Tandy, the first licensed black architect in New York State. “There is nothing to equal it,” Lelia wrote to Ransom. "Not even on Fifth Avenue.”
At the August 1914 NNBL convention in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Booker T. Washington invited Madam Walker to speak from the platform again:
I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself.  I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of women of my race. 
. . .  I had little or no opportunity when I started out in life . . . I had to make my own living and my own opportunity.  But I made it.  That is why I want to say to every Negro woman present, don't sit down and wait for the opportunities to come, but you have to get up and make them!
. . . If the truth were known there are many women who are responsible for the success of you men.
Like many wealthy people, Madam Walker received many requests for money from family, acquaintances and strangers.  She supported her sister-in-law, Lucy Breedlove and four nieces in Denver, and her sister, Louvenia Breedlove Powell, who had moved to Indianapolis. 
It seems the more I do for my people they are harder to please and I am going to quit trying to please them.
In 1915 she sponsored a benefit concert for 16-year-old Frances Spencer, a talented black harpist.  Walker presented Spencer with a $300 check for the down payment on a harp, but was unsettled by the girl's request to come live with her in her home.  Spencer continued to ask until Walker allowed her to move in.
After remaining here for about two months and being treated like one of my own family and receiving a salary of $6 a week . . . she stole out everything which she had, including the harp. . . Now I want to say, and this is final, that I am through helping so-called people.  . . . There isn't a day that I am not besieged by people for help . . . and, near as I could, I have tried to help, or reach them in some way.  In the future all appeals will be turned down and consigned to the waste basket.
In 1915, Madam Walker took an extended business trip West with Mae, stopping in St. Louis and Denver on her way to California, Washington and Oregon.  They also enjoyed visits to Yellowstone National Park in California and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.  Her lectures at this time were illustrated by slides showing her hair care system, and also the accomplishments of African Americans in business and education.  


Booker T. Washington's Funeral
That November, during a stay in Montana, she was shocked by the news of Booker T. Washington's death at the age of 59. He had collapsed in New York City and was taken home to Tuskegee where he died. His death was believed to have been a result of heart failure, aggravated by overwork. Freeman Ransom represented Madam Walker and her company at the funeral in Alabama three days later.
1915 was the year that the film, The Birth of a Nation, directed by D.W. Griffith, was a commercial success in the United States. It was was highly controversial owing to its portrayal of black men (played by white actors in blackface) as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women.  The Ku Klux Klan was presented as a heroic force in the South.  There were widespread African-American protests against the film; the NAACP, which had been founded just a few years earlier, spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign to ban the film.  Riots broke out in major cities, including Boston and Philadelphia, and it was denied release in some other cities (Chicago, Denver, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Minneapolis). Gangs of whites roamed city streets attacking blacks. In Lafayette, Indiana, a white man killed a black teenager after seeing the movie. Thomas Dixon, the author of the novel, The Clansman, which the film was based on, reveled in its triumph:
The real purpose of my film was to revolutionize Northern audiences that would transform every man into a Southern partisan for life. 
Woodrow Wilson and Thomas Dixon had become friends while they were classmates at Johns Hopkins University in the 1880s.  The president requested a special screening at the White House for the members of his Cabinet and their families; it was the first film to be shown in the White House.   After seeing the film, Wilson reportedly remarked:
Woodrow Wilson
It is like writing history with lightning, and my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.
Born in Virginia in 1856, Wilson was  the son of Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a Presbyterian minister who defended slavery and published one of his sermons as Mutual Relation of Masters and Slaves as Taught in the Bible:
This recognition of involuntary servitude is, we say, thus found imbedded in the very heart of the moral law itself-- that law which determines the principles of divine administration over men--a law which constitutes, if I may so speak, the very constitution of that royal kingdom whose regulations begin and end in the infinite holiness of Jehovah, and whose spread through the universal heart of the race is the aim of all Scripture.

. . . But my hearers, if you wish for further conviction, carry your belief of the essential rightness of slavery to the injunctions of our text, which the Apostle publishes for its conservation and perfection. He as much as says, that it is unnecessary to fear that this long-cherished institution will first give way before the enemies who press upon it from without.
If slaveholders preserve it as an element of social welfare, in the spirit of the Christian religion, throwing into it the full measure of gospel-salt allotted to it, and casting around it the same guardianship with which they would protect their family peace, if threatened on some other ground--they need apprehend nothing but their own dereliction in duty to themselves and their dependent servants. 
I mean, simply, that while we ought to allow no malignant interference from any quarter with the institution of which we are God's appointed guardians, and while we ought to be suitably alive to any threat of presumptuous violence which may seek to wrest from us our heaven-given rights in our heaven-allowed property--yet, after all, the wisdom which lies underneath the spirit of this sensitive watchfulness of our political zeal, and which gives to that zeal its purity and power, is the wisdom to be exercised in making our domestic servitude all that it should become, so as to render it worth the expenditure of every energy of defence. 
We must see to it, that masters and servants understand and appreciate their mutual relation, and that they maintain it on both sides as Christians. . . . 

To vital goodness alone belongs the privilege of understanding and administering the whole authority of a masterhood so responsible.   
And, oh, when that welcome day shall dawn, whose light will reveal a world covered with righteousness, not the least pleasing sight will be the institution of domestic slavery, freed from its stupid servility on the one side and its excesses of neglect or severity on the other, and appearing to all mankind as containing that scheme of politics and morals, which, by saving a lower race from the destruction of heathenism, has, under divine management, contributed to refine, exalt, and enrich its superior race!
Reverend Wilson wrote that "We should begin to meet the infidel fanaticism of our infatuated enemies upon the elevated ground of the divine warrant for the institution." Wilson's father served as a chaplain in the Confederate army during the Civil War; he taught his son the justification of the South's secession from the Union. Woodrow Wilson said in a 1909 speech that his earliest memory was of hearing that Abraham Lincoln had been elected
Robert E. Lee, 1870
president and that a war was coming. In 1865, as the war ended, young Wilson saw Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president in Augusta, Georgian, following his capture by Federal troops. In 1870, Reverend Wilson took his thirteen year old son to see General Robert E. Lee, who was visiting Augusta on his final Southern tour. Woodrow Wilson would forever recall standing for a moment at Robert E. Lee's side and seeing the general's face.   Robert E. Lee died later that year.


In the presidential campaign of 1912, Wilson had promised African-Americans “not more grudging justice but justice executed with liberality and cordial good feeling.” When Wilson entered the White House in 1913, Washington, D.C. was a rigidly segregated town — except for federal government agencies. They had been integrated during the post-war Reconstruction period, enabling African-Americans to obtain federal jobs and work side by side with whites in government agencies. Wilson promptly authorized members of his cabinet to reverse this long-standing policy of racial integration in the federal civil service. Cabinet heads – including Albert Burleson, the
William McAdoo
postmaster general, and Woodrow Wilson' son-in-law, Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo of Tennessee – re-segregated facilities such as restrooms and cafeterias in their buildings. In some federal offices, screens were set up to separate white and black workers. African-Americans found it difficult to secure high-level civil service positions, which some had held under previous Republican administrations. The House of Representatives passed a law making racial intermarriage a felony in the District of Columbia. Photographs were required of all applicants for federal jobs. When pressured for a response by black leaders, Wilson replied,
The purpose of these measures was to reduce the friction. . .  It is as far as possible from being a movement against the Negroes. I sincerely believe it to be in their interest.
A delegation of black professionals led by Monroe Trotter, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Harvard and Boston newspaper editor, appeared at the White House to protest the new policies. The encounter made front-page news, and subsequent rallies protested Wilson’s treatment of Trotter.  Wilson declared that “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” The Crisis magazine, the official magazine of the NAACP, edited by W.E.B. Dubois, reported:
Mr. Monroe Trotter. Mr. President, we are here to renew our protest against the segregation of colored employees in the departments of our National Government. We [had] appealed to you to undo this race segregation in accord with your duty as President and with your pre-election pledges to colored American voters. We stated that such segregation was a public humiliation and degradation, and entirely unmerited and far-reaching in its injurious effects. . . 
President Woodrow Wilson. The white people of the country, as well as I, wish to see the colored people progress, and admire the progress they have already made, and want to see them continue along independent lines. 
There is, however, a great prejudice against colored people. . . . It will take one hundred years to eradicate this prejudice, and we must deal with it as practical men. 
Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen. If your organization goes out and tells the colored people of the country that it is a humiliation, they will so regard it, but if you do not tell them so, and regard it rather as a benefit, they will regard it the same. The only harm that will come will be if you cause them to think it is a humiliation.
Mr. Monroe Trotter. It is not in accord with the known facts to claim that the segregation was started because of race friction of white and colored [federal] clerks. The indisputable facts of the situation will not permit of the claim that the segregation is due to the friction. It is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness, doing so even through two [President Grover Cleveland] Democratic administrations. Soon after your inauguration began, segregation was drastically introduced in the Treasury and Postal departments by your appointees.
President Woodrow Wilson. If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me. 
After the shouting match that followed, Trotter was ordered out of the White House. Trotter stood outside on the White House grounds and held a press conference, describing what had happened.  Monroe Trotter was a newspaper editor and real estate businessman based in Boston, Massachusetts. He was an opponent of the conciliatory race policies of Booker T. Washington, and in 1901 founded the Boston Guardianan independent African-American newspaper to express that opposition. He contributed to the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  Born into a well-to-do family, he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Harvard University and was the first man of color to earn a Phi Beta Kappa Key there. Seeing an increase in segregation in northern facilities, he began his work as a civil rights activist. 

Curtailment of voting rights, the entrenchment of Jim Crow segregation, and the threats of extralegal violent reprisal and lynching for breaking racial norms were common at this time.  President Wilson took no action against such practices. 

E. L. Godkin, founder and longtime editor of The Nation, had written that
E. L. Godkin
As the nineteenth century draws to its close it is impossible not to contrast the political ideals now dominant with those of the preceding era. It was the rights of man which engaged the attention of the political thinkers of the eighteenth century.  . .  Government, it was plainly seen, had become the vehicle of oppression; and the methods by which it could be subordinated to the needs of individual development, and could be made to foster liberty rather than to suppress it, were the favorite study of the most enlightened philosophers. . . .
 Humanity was exalted above human institutions, man was held superior to the State, and universal brotherhood supplanted the ideals of national power and glory. 
These eighteenth-century ideas were the soil in which modern Liberalism flourished. Under their influence the demand for Constitutional Government arose. Rulers were to be the servants of the people, and were to be restrained and held in check by bills of rights and fundamental laws which defined the liberties proved by experience to be most important and vulnerable. . . 
Freed from the vexatious meddling of governments, men devoted themselves to their natural task, the bettering of their condition, with the wonderful results which surround us. 
But it now seems that its material comfort has blinded the eyes of the present
"Gilded Age" Cartoon
generation to the cause which made it possible. . . . 
In our country recent events show how much ground has been lost. 
The Declaration of Independence no longer arouses enthusiasm; it is an embarrassing instrument which requires to be explained away. The Constitution is said to be “outgrown”; and at all events the rights which it guarantees must be carefully reserved to our own citizens, and not allowed to human beings over whom we have purchased sovereignty. 
The great party which boasted that it had secured for the negro the rights of humanity and of citizenship, now listens in silence to the proclamation of white supremacy and makes no protest against the nullifications of the Fifteenth Amendment.
Nationalism in the sense of national greed has supplanted Liberalism. It is an old foe under a new name. By making the aggrandizement of a particular nation a higher end than the welfare of mankind, it has sophisticated the moral sense of Christendom. 
Aristotle justified slavery, because Barbarians were “naturally” inferior to Greeks, and we have gone back to his philosophy. We hear no more of natural rights, but of inferior races, whose part it is to submit to the government of those whom God has made their superiors. 
The old fallacy of divine right has once more asserted its ruinous power, and before it is again repudiated there must be international struggles on a terrific scale.
Madam Walker moved to New York City in 1916, leaving the day-to-day operations of the company in Indianapolis to Freeman Ransom as general manager and to Alice Kelly, her factory forelady. Walker continued to oversee the business from the New York office. Her sister, Louvenia Powell, worked in the Indianapolis factory. Her nieces, Thirsapen Breedlove and Anjetta Breedlove, had an agency in Los Angeles. 

The Harlem Salon
Walker moved into her new townhouse in Harlem, where Lelia was living and supervising the salon, training, and mail order operations. Madam Walker wrote to Ransom:
It is just impossible for me to describe it to you . . .  It beats anything I have seen anywhere even in the best hair parlors of the whites . . . There is nothing equal to it, not even on Fifth Avenue. . . .Now, Mr. Ransom, in regards to this house, you will agree with Lelia when she said that it would be a monument to us both.
In addition to the business, the new townhouse had lavish living and entertainment spaces.
Lelia's bedroom in townhouse
Madam Walker wrote to Ransom:

As  regards my coming back to Indianapolis, Mr. Ransom, that is clear out of the question . . . I will never come back to Indianapolis . . . There is so much more joy living in New York where there are not so many narrow, mean people.
In the fall of 1916, Mae Walker enrolled at Spelman Seminary in Atlanta.  Originally called the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, it had been established in 1881 by two white teachers from Massachusetts, Harriet Giles and  Sophia Packard. They had traveled to Atlanta
Harriet Giles and
  Sophia Packard
specifically to found a school for black freedwomen, and found support from Frank Quarles, the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church.  They began 
the school with 11 African-American women.  Although their first students were mostly illiterate, they envisioned their school to be a liberal arts institution - the first circular of the college stated that they planned to offer "algebra, physiology, essays, Latin, rhetoric, geometry, political economy, mental philosophy (psychology), chemistry, botany, Constitution of the United States, astronomy, zoology, geology, moral philosophy, and evidences of Christianity".  In 1882 the two women returned North to ask for money; they were introduced to wealthy John D. Rockefeller man at a church conference in Ohio.  He was impressed by their vision for the school, and visited Atlanta in 1884. By this time, the seminary had 600 students and 16 faculty members. It was surviving on generous donations by the black community in Atlanta, the efforts of volunteer teachers, and gifts of supplies; many Atlanta black churches, philanthropists, and black community groups raised and donated money to settle the debt on the property that had been acquired. Rockefeller was so impressed that he settled the debt on the property. Rockefeller's wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller; her sister, Lucy Spelman; and their parents, Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman, were also supportive of the school. The Spelmans were longtime activists in the abolitionist movement. In 1884 the name of the school was changed to the Spelman Seminary in honor of  Laura Spelman Rockefeller.

Madam Walker continued to work hard to promote her business in advertising, lectures and interviews, saying:
 Having a good article for the market is one thing, and putting it properly before the public is another . . . 
Agents are engaged in promoting "The Walker System."  I feel that I have done something for the race by making it possible for so many colored women and girls to make money. 
Oswald Garrison Villard
The NAACP approached her for a contribution to their first major anti-lynching campaign; her contribution was acknowledged publicly by Oswald Garrison Villard, the first NAACP board chairman and grandson of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.  Blacks in the country continued to be terrorized  by hanging, burnings, drownings, shooting, brandings and mutilations that often were witnessed and even photographed by large mobs of whites. 

Although rape is often cited as a reason for lynching, statistics show that only about one-fourth of lynchings from 1880 to 1930 were prompted by an accusation of rape. Most victims of lynching were political activists, labor organizers or black men and women who violated white expectations of black deference, and were deemed "uppity" or "insolent."  Lynching was closely related to the practice of racial cleansing. The Harrison race riots of 1905 and 1909 in Harrison, Arkansas in Boone County effectively drove all but one African American from the area—creating, through violence and intimidation, a virtually all-white community. Only one person was killed during the riots, in 1905, but the fear of lynching, especially in 1909, motivated black residents to flee. Municipalities throughout Arkansas forbade black people from living in a particular town, usually through campaigns of intimidation. Such “sundown towns” as Alix were far more prevalent in the northern half of Arkansas (where more than 100 such towns existed) than in the rest of the state. In northern and western Arkansas, some entire counties, such as Boone and Polk, refused to allow black residents. Sundown towns were at their peak in the late 1960s, thus surviving long after incidents of had declined.

Occasionally, lynching was sanctioned by Arkansas leaders, who inflamed racial passions as
Jeff Davis
a means of achieving their own political ends. Arkansas governor Jeff Davis, who served as governor of the state from 1901 to 1907, was quite willing to defend the practice of lynching. When President Theodore Roosevelt visited Arkansas in 1905, Davis famously remarked, 
We have come to a parting of the way with the Negro. If the brutal criminals of that race…lay unholy hands upon our fair daughters, nature is so riven and shocked that the dire compact produces a social cataclysm. 
The Tuskegee Institute began to assiduously document lynchings in 1888, a practice it would continue until 1968. Ida B. Wells-Barnett, the black journalist, was outraged in 1889 when three of her friends in Memphis, Tennessee were lynched for opening a grocery that competed with a white-owned store.  The murder of her friends drove Wells to research and document lynchings and their causes. She began the process of investigative journalism, looking at the charges given for the murders.  She spoke on the issue at various black women’s clubs, and raised more than $500 to investigate lynchings and publish her results. 

Wells found that blacks were lynched for such reasons as failing to pay debts, not appearing
to give way to whites, competing with whites economically, and being drunk in public. In 1892. she published her findings in a pamphlet entitled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases.  It began with a preface from Frederick Douglass:
Dear Miss Wells:
Let me give you thanks for your faithful paper on the lynch abomination now generally practiced against colored people in the South. There has been no word equal to it in convincing power. I have spoken, but my word is feeble in comparison. You give us what you know and testify from actual knowledge. You have dealt with the facts with cool, painstaking fidelity and left those naked and uncontradicted facts to speak for themselves.
Brave woman! you have done your people and mine a service which can neither be weighed nor measured. If American conscience were only half alive, if the American church and clergy were only half christianized, if American moral sensibility were not hardened by persistent infliction of outrage and crime against colored people, a scream of horror, shame and indignation would rise to Heaven wherever your pamphlet shall be read.
Frederick Douglass
But alas! even crime has power to reproduce itself and create conditions favorable to its own existence. It sometimes seems we are deserted by earth and Heaven yet we must still think, speak and work, and trust in the power of a merciful God for final deliverance.
Very truly and gratefully yours, 
FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Cedar Hill, Anacostia, D.C., 
Oct. 25, 1892




Wells-Barnett later listed fourteen pages of statistics for lynchings from 1892 to 1895, and included pages of graphic stories detailing lynchings in the South.  While she was away in Philadelphia, a mob destroyed the offices of her newspaper in Memphis, Free Speech and Headlight, in retaliation for her controversial articles. Because of the threats to her life, she moved from Memphis to Chicago. Wells continued to wage her anti-lynching campaign and to write about Southern injustices.  Despite Wells-Barnett's attempt to garner support among white Americans against lynching, she felt her campaign could not overturn the economic interests whites had in using lynching as an instrument to maintain Southern order and discourage prosperity for blacks.  Wells-Barnett concluded that reason and compassion for the plight of the Negro would never appeal to Southern whites.
"The Waco Horror"
The Crisis, July 1916
In July 1916, The Crisis  reported on "The Waco Horror" that described the torture of Jesse Washington.  Washington, a 17-year-old African-American farmhand who was described as "retarded," was lynched - burned alive while hanging - in Waco, Texas on May 15, 1916.  Washington had been accused of raping and murdering Lucy Fryer, the wife of his white
The crowd at Waco
employer in rural Robinson, Texas. Washington was tried for murder in Waco, in a courtroom filled with local white residents. He entered a guilty plea and was quickly sentenced to death. After his sentence was pronounced, he was dragged out of the court by observers and lynched in front of Waco's city hall. Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere at the event, and many children attended. 


Members of the mob castrated Washington, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire.
He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The pictures were printed and sold as postcards in Waco.

Although the lynching was supported by many Waco residents, it was condemned by newspapers around the United States. The NAACP hired Elisabeth Freeman to
Elisabeth Freeman
investigate; she conducted a detailed probe in Waco, despite the reluctance of many residents to speak about the event. NAACP co-founder and editor W.E.B. Du Bois published an in-depth report in The Crisis, featuring photographs of Washington's charred body. Historians have said that Washington's death helped alter the way that lynching was viewed: the publicity it received caused the practice to be seen as barbarism rather than as an acceptable form of justice. 

Lucy Fryer was murdered while alone at her house on May 8, 1916. The McLennan County Sheriff, Samuel Fleming, immediately investigated with a team of law-enforcement officers, a group of local men, and a doctor. The doctor determined that Fryer had been killed by blunt-force trauma to the head. The local men suspected that Jesse Washington, who had worked on the Fryers' farm for five months, was responsible. That night, sheriff's deputies traveled to Washington's home, finding him in front of the house wearing blood-stained overalls. Jesse, his brother William, and their parents were taken to nearby Waco to be questioned by the sheriff's department; although Jesse's parents and brother were released after a short time, he was held for further interrogation. On May 9, Fleming took Washington to Hill County to prevent vigilante action. The Hill County Sheriff, Fred Long, questioned Washington with Fleming; Washington told them he had killed Fryer following an argument about her mules, and described the murder weapon and its location. Fleming soon reported that he found the bloody hammer. Washington dictated and signed a statement that described the rape and murder of Fryer; the confession was published the next day in Waco newspapers. Newspapers sensationalized the murder, describing Fryer's attempts to resist Washington's attack, although the doctor who had examined her body concluded that she was killed before she could resist.

A lynch mob assembled in Waco that night to search the local jail, but dispersed after they did not find Washington.  A local newspaper praised their effort. On May 11, a grand jury was assembled in McLennan County and quickly returned an indictment against Washington; the trial was scheduled for May 15. Fleming traveled to Robinson on May 13 to ask residents to remain calm.

McClennan County Courthouse, Waco, Texas
Washington was assigned defense lawyers who prepared no defense. On the morning of May 15, Waco's courthouse quickly filled to capacity. Observers also filled the sidewalks around the courthouse; over two thousand spectators were present. Attendees were almost entirely white. As Washington was led into the courtroom, one audience member pointed a gun at him, but was quickly overpowered. As the trial commenced, the judge attempted to keep order, insisting that the audience remain silent. The prosecution described the charges, and the court heard testimony from law enforcement officers and the doctor who examined Fryer's body. The doctor discussed how Fryer died, but did not mention rape. The prosecution rested.  Washington's defense attorney asked him whether he had committed the offense: Washington replied, "That's what I done" and apologized. The lead prosecutor declared that the trial had been conducted fairly, prompting an ovation from the crowd. The jury was then sent out to deliberate; after four minutes of deliberation, the jury's foreman announced a guilty verdict and a sentence of death.  The trial had lasted about one hour. 

Court officers approached Washington to escort him away, but were pushed aside by a surge of spectators, who seized Washington and dragged him outside. Washington initially fought back, biting one man, but was soon beaten. A chain was placed around his neck and he was dragged toward city hall by the mob; on the way downtown, he was stripped, stabbed, and repeatedly beaten with blunt objects. By the time he arrived at city hall, a group had prepared wood for a bonfire next to a tree in front of the building. Washington, semiconscious and covered in blood, was doused with oil, hung from the tree by a chain, and then lowered to the ground. Members of the crowd cut off his fingers, toes, and genitals. The fire was lit and Washington was repeatedly raised and lowered into the flames until he burned to death. Washington attempted to climb the chain, but was unable to, owing to his lack of fingers. 

The lynching drew a large crowd, including the mayor and the chief of police, although lynching was illegal in Texas. Sheriff Fleming told his deputies not to stop the lynching, and no one was arrested after the event. The crowd numbered 15,000 at its peak. Telephones helped spread word of the lynching, allowing spectators to gather more quickly. Local media reported that "shouts of delight" were heard as Washington burned.

Fred Gildersleeve
Fred Gildersleeve, a Waco-based professional photographer, arrived at city hall shortly before the lynching and photographed the event. His photographs provide rare depictions of a lynching in progress, rather than typical lynching photography, which only shows dead victims. Gildersleeve's photographs include views of the crowd shot from a building and close images of Washington's body.

The fire was extinguished after two hours, allowing bystanders to collect souvenirs from the site of the lynching, including Washington's bones and links of the chain. One attendee kept part of Washington's genitalia; a group of children snapped the teeth out of Washington's head to sell as souvenirs. His body was removed from the tree and dragged behind a horse throughout the town. Washington's remains were transported to Robinson, where they were publicly displayed until a constable obtained the body late in the day and buried it.  Fred Gildersleeve produced postcards of the lynching,
some featuring images of young people gathered around Washington's body: the individuals in the photographs made no attempts to hide their identities. As Waco residents sent the postcard to out-of-town friends and relatives, several prominent local citizens persuaded Gildersleeve to stop selling them, fearing that the images would come to characterize the town.

Within a week, news of the lynching was published as far away as London, England. A New York Times editorial said that "in no other land even pretending to be civilized could a man be burned to death in the streets of a considerable city amid the savage exultation of its inhabitants."  
Many southern newspapers had previously defended lynching as a defense of civilized society. In Waco, The Waco Morning News briefly noted their disapproval of the lynching, focusing their criticism on newspapers they felt had attacked their city unfairly. They described the condemnatory editorials in the aftermath of the lynching as "Holier than thou" remarks. A writer for the Waco Semi-Weekly Tribune defended the lynching, stating that Washington deserved to die and that blacks should view Washington's death as a warning against crime.

Some Waco residents condemned the lynching, including local ministers and leaders of Baylor University.  The judge who presided over Washington's trial later stated that members of the lynch mob were "murderers."  A few citizens contemplated staging a protest against the lynching, but decided not to because of threats of violent reprisals.  


After the lynching, town officials maintained that it was attended by a small group of malcontents; although their claim was contradicted by the photographic evidence, several histories of Waco have repeated this assertion.  There were no negative repercussions for Dollins or Police Chief John McNamara: although they made no attempt to stop the mob, they remained well respected in Waco. 

W.E.B. Du Bois
As usual with such attacks, no one was prosecuted for the lynching. W.E.B. Du Bois was incensed, saying 
Any talk of the triumph of Christianity, or the spread of human culture, is idle twaddle as long as the Waco lynching is possible in the United States.   
After receiving Freeman's report, Du Bois placed an image of Washington's charred body on the cover of the July 1916 issue of The Crisis. The issue was titled "The Waco Horror" and was published as an eight-page supplement.  In 1916, The Crisis had a circulation of about 30,000, three times the size of the NAACP's membership.  Although the paper had campaigned against lynching in the past, this issue was the first that contained photographs of an attack. The NAACP's board was initially hesitant to publish such graphic content, but Du Bois insisted on doing so, arguing that uncensored coverage would push white Americans to support change. In addition to the images, the issue included accounts of the lynching that Elisabeth Freeman obtained from Waco residents.  The article concluded with a call to support the anti-lynching movement. 

The NAACP distributed the report to hundreds of newspapers and politicians, a campaign that led to wide condemnation of the lynching. Many white observers were disturbed by the southerners who celebrated the lynching.  Oswald Garrison Villard wrote in a later edition of the paper that "the crime at Waco is a challenge to our American civilization."  Other black newspapers also carried significant coverage of the lynching, as did liberal papers such as  The New Republic and The NationLeaders of the NAACP hoped to launch a legal battle against those responsible for Washington's death, but abandoned the plan owing to the projected cost.  Elisabeth Freeman traveled around the U.S. to speak to audiences about her investigation, maintaining that a shift in public opinion could accomplish more than legislative actions.

The number of lynchings in the U.S. increased in the late 1910s.  Additional lynchings occurred in Waco, partially owing to the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. 
Ku Klux Klan March in Washington, D.C.
 Waco authorities feared that negative publicity generated by lynchings—such as the NAACP's campaign following Washington's death—would hinder their efforts to attract investors.  
Although the spectacle of violent mob attacks had previously benefited white supremacists, Amy Louise Wood of Illinois State University claimed that after Washington's death was publicized, the anti-lynching movement included images of racially motivated brutality in their campaigns.  Washington's death may have received more public attention than any other lynching in the United States.  The controversy it provoked did not end the practice, but it helped bring an end to public support of such attacks by government and civic leaders.


After moving to New York, Madam Walker decided to have a national convention for all Walker agents and hair culturists to learn methods for both hair care and business.  In 1916 she started organizing the New York area agents as the first chapter of the Madam C.J. Walker Benevolent Association to increase sales and contribute to charitable causes. Walker wanted to organize her agents into clubs that would promote corporate responsibility, social betterment and racial justice.  She proposed annual prizes for state organizations with the highest sales and the most generous philanthropy.  She continued to travel extensively around the country, speaking at churches, colleges, and conferences.  Ransom put advertisements in local black newspapers before her visits.  She stressed financial independence, but her message also shifted from a focus on "hair work" to community involvement.  She wrote to Ransom about fliers for her company:
In those circulars I wish you would use the words "our" and "we" instead of "I" and "my" . . . Address them as "Dear Friend."
In a trip through the South in October 1916 she visited Louisiana, mentioning in a letter to Ransom that
Went to my home in Delta yesterday and came back to Vicksburg and gave a lecture at Bethel Church to a very appreciative audience.
Her visit was reported in a white Louisiana newspaper article titled "World's Richest Negress in Delta,"
Delta was honored Sunday by a visit of the richest negro woman in the world, C.J. Walker, proprietress of a hair straightener remedy.  She was born Winnie Breedlove, a daughter of Owen Breedlove, a slave owned by Mr. Robert Burney.  She came here to see the place of her nativity, and to call on Mrs. George M. Long, the only daughter of Mr. Burney living here.  Mrs. Long has a childhood recollection of Owen Breedlove being one of the "lead hands" of her father.  The visitor was very quiet and unassuming and a fine example to her race.
Her travelling, full schedule and hard work took its toll on her health; doctors were so concerned about her blood pressure that they insisted the take a rest.  She wrote to Ransom:
I think instead of coming home I will go to Hot Springs where I can really get rest and quietude.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
She went to the Pythian Hotel and Bath House in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a spa and hospital owned by the black Knights of Pythias.  W. T. Bailey, head of the architecture department of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, designed the building. The hotel had opened in 1914; the bathhouse provided bathing services half price for members of the Knights of Pythias insurance organization.  At the time, Walker was suffering from fatigue and hypertension; doctors believed that the heated baths would lower her blood pressure.  She wrote to Ransom:
I promise you I am going to let all business alone and look strictly after my health except little things which I am going to write to you about now.  Ha. Ha
Madam Walker spent the Christmas holidays in Hot Springs and was joined by Lelia in early January.  They agreed to add southern Florida and Cuba to Lelia sales territory, and in March 1917, Lelia took a business trip to Havana, and wrote that it was "the most picturesque place on earth, I do believe."



Madam Walker continued her travelling throughout the south, visiting New Orleans, Baton Rouge, San Antonio, Houston, and many other cities and towns, then going to Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, North and South Carolina before returning to New York City in June 1917.  It was a productive trip; Ransom wrote her that 
At the rate you are now going, we have now but five years before you will be rated as a millionaire, and I feel that every energy ought to be bent in that direction.
Annie Turnbo-Malone's company was growing and thriving, but she continued to resent Madam Walker's defection.  She criticized the Walker System in print; Madam Walker, regardless of her private feelings, said publicly in a newspaper interview that she hoped for
the banishment of the unpleasant feeling, that the past be forgotten whatever it held and that friendship should exist . . . We are succeeding and that should be sufficient.
Wilson addressing Congress, April 2, 1917
On April 2, 1917, after Europe had been at war for three years, President Woodrow Wilson went before a joint session of Congress to seek a Declaration of War against Germany in order that the world “be made safe for democracy.” Thousands of African Americans enlisted in the Army, but their rights of citizenship, as well as their economic well-being and safety in their home country, was still under attack.



In May, Ell Persons, an African American man in Memphis, Tennessee, was lynched on May 22, 1917 after he was accused of having raped and murdered a 16-year-old white girl, Antoinette Rappel. He was arrested and was awaiting trial when he was seized by a lynch mob who burned him alive and scattered his remains around the city of Memphis.

Antoinette Rappel had been found dead, with evidence she had been raped, in woods half a mile from the home of Persons, a fifty year-old woodcutter. She had been decapitated with an axe. At the scene, they found a white coat and a white handkerchief. After the arrests of several black men, the police brought in Persons, and subjected him to brutal treatment for 24 hours: the police said he confessed to the murder. 

Eager to prove Persons' guilt, Mike Tate, the Shelby County sheriff, ordered that Rappel's body be exhumed so that they could look at her pupils, because the authorities thought that a photograph of the pupils could be used to show the last image seen by a person who had died. Despite being told by eye specialists that it would be impossible, the authorities said they saw Persons in Rappel's pupils—which showed a "frozen expression of horror"—and he was taken to Tennessee State Prison in Nashville to await arraignment and trial. Judges from the county criminal court tried but failed to persuade the state to send men to protect Persons, as the southern newspapers had been predicting that unofficial action would be taken against him. There is no evidence that the authorities tried to prevent the lynching. 

David J. Mays
On May 21, Ell Persons was on a train to Memphis when he was captured by a lynch mob; David J. Mays, who later became a highly regarded attorney in Virginia,  was one of those involved in the planning of the lynching.  A Memphis newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, ran a headline on May 22: "Mob captures slayer of the Rappel girl: Ell Persons to be lynched near scene of murder; May resort to burning." It reported that the lynching was going to take place between 9.00 and 9.30 a.m. near the bridge at Wolf River.  The scene at Macon Road near the bridge on the day of the lynching was like a "holiday" according to one newspaper, many people having stayed overnight. In the morning hundreds of men, women, and children gathered, and by 9.00 a.m. the road was packed with automobiles. A total of about 5,000 people attended the event. Spectators bought soft drinks and sandwiches from vendors, and parents excused their children from school. Some county schools closed early in order to allow the children to attend. 

The mob chained Persons , poured gasoline over him, and set him afire.  David Mays said he stood close to his head "in spite of the African odor" and watched the whole performance. While Persons was burning, spectators snatched pieces of his clothes for souvenirs.  Later, Persons' body was decapitated and dismembered, and his remains were scattered and displayed across Beale Street in the African American community in Memphis.  His head was thrown from a car at a group of African Americans. Photographs of his burned head were sold on postcards for months after the event. The Commercial Appeal's headline the day after the lynching read: "Thousands cheered when negro burned: Eli Persons pays death penalty for killing girl", and the newspaper's editorial on May 25 described the lynching as "orderly. 

No one was charged for the crime. James Weldon Johnson, field secretary of the NAACP,
James Weldon Johnson
investigated the case shortly after the lynching, and said there was no evidence Persons was guilty. Standing on the spot where Persons died, he reflected:

I tried to balance the sufferings of the miserable victim against the moral degradation of Memphis, and the truth flashed over me that in large measure the race question involves the saving of black America's body and white America's soul.
Shortly after the lynching of Ell Persons, a white mob murdered blacks in East St. Louis, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from the city where Madam Walker had lived for more than 16 years.  The East St. Louis riots in May and July 1917 were outbreaks of labor- and race-related violence that caused injuries, deaths and extensive property damage. 

East St. Louis was an industrial city on the east bank of the river. Seeking better work and living opportunities, as well as an escape from harsh conditions, many African Americans left the South and moved to industrial centers in the northern and Midwestern United States.  In early 1917, blacks were arriving in St. Louis at the rate of 2,000 per week. When industries became embroiled in labor strikes, traditionally white unions sought to strengthen their bargaining position by hindering or excluding black workers, while industry owners utilizing blacks as replacements or strikebreakers added to the divisions. Tensions between the groups escalated, including rumors of black men and white women fraternizing at labor meetings. In May, three thousand white men gathered in downtown East St. Louis and began violently attacking blacks. With mobs destroying buildings and beating people, the Illinois governor called in  the National Guard.

On July 2, a car occupied by white men drove through a black area of the city and fired several shots into a group of blacks.  An hour later, an unmarked car containing four white men, including a journalist and two police officers was passing through the same area. Black residents, assuming that the white shooters had returned, fired guns at their car, killing one officer instantly and mortally wounding another. Later that day, thousands of white spectators assembled to view the detectives' bloodstained automobile.  Soon, they marched into the black section of town and started rioting. After cutting the water hoses of the fire department, the rioters burned entire sections of the city and shot inhabitants as they escaped the flames. Claiming that "Southern negros deserve[d] a genuine lynching," they lynched several blacks. Guardsmen were called in, but accounts exist that they joined in the rioting rather than stopping it. After the riot, varying estimates of the death toll circulated. The police chief estimated that 100 blacks had been killed. Ida B. Wells 
reported in The Chicago Defender that 40-150 black people were killed during July in the rioting in East St. Louis. The NAACP estimated deaths at 100-200. 


East St. Louis after the riots and fires
Six thousand blacks were left homeless after their neighborhoods was burned. Friends of Madam Walker assisted the refugees as they crossed the bridges to Missouri.  The Knights of Pythias, the NAACP and the Red Cross were among the organization attempting to house and feed the homeless.

President Woodrow Wilson made no comment about the events.  However, former President Theodore Roosevelt, in New York City at a Carnegie Hall rally celebrating the overthrow of the Russian czar, said:
Before we speak of justice for others, it behooves us to do justice within our own household.
The Silent Protest, July 28, 1917, New York City
James Weldon Johnson of the NAACP organized a committee, including Madam Walker, for a Silent Protest parade against lynching in New York City on July 28, 1917.  Johnson, an author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, songwriter, and activist, had started working for the NAACP earlier that year. He had been appointed under President Theodore Roosevelt as United States consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua for most of the period from 1906 to 1913.  Johnson's committee raised money for handbills, banners and other expenses.  On
Girls in the Silent Protest
Saturday, July 28, thousands of black people, including men, women and children marched down Fifth Avenue silently,
carrying signs that highlighted protests about the  East St. Louis riots. Women and children were dressed in white; the men were dressed in black.  One banner said, "Mr. President, Why Not Make America Safe for Democracy?"  The New York Times reported that "Fully 20,000 negroes lined Fifth Avenue and gave silent approval of the demonstration."  Fliers passed out to crowds stated
We march because we want to make impossible a repetition of Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis, by rousing the conscience of the country and bringing the murderers of our brothers, sisters and innocent children to justice. 

Following the Silent Protest, Madam Walker traveled to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, August 1.  She and other African American leaders intended to meet with President Wilson about race relations. Wilson's private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, informed them that Wilson was so busy with an agricultural bill that he would not be able to see them.  James Weldon Johnson ridiculed the idea that the bill was more important than murdered citizens; he handed Tumulty a petition that stated that although many thousands of people had participated in criminal lynchings, not even one had been convicted of murder for the death of "2,867 colored men and women" since 1885.


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 and marketing.  During the convention she gave prizes not only to the women who had sold the most products and brought in the most new sales agents, but also to those who had contributed the most to charity in their communities. She stressed the importance of philanthropy and political engagement.  While the focus of the convention was on business opportunities, in her keynote address Madam Walker talked about current events in the nation:
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 riot be forever impossible.
Walker led her convention delegates in sending a telegram to President Woodrow Wilson protesting the lynchings and riots; it read:
“We, the representatives of the National Convention of the Mme. C. J. Walker Agents, in convention assembled, and in a larger sense representing twelve million Negroes, have keenly felt the injustice done our race and country through the recent lynching at Memphis, Tennessee and the horrible race riot at East St. Louis. Knowing that no people in all the world are more loyal and patriotic than the Colored people of America, we respectfully submit to you this our protest against the continuation of such wrongs and injustices in this ‘land of the free and home of the brave’ and we further respectfully urge that you as President of these United States use your great influence that congress enact the necessary laws to prevent a recurrence of such disgraceful affairs.”
After the convention, she met with cosmetic company leaders at the Walker townhouse to
form the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association. According to the minutes:
It has been so often the case that the white man who is not interested in Colored Women's Beauty only looks to further his own gains and puts on the market preparations that are absolutely of no aid whatsoever to the Skin, Scalp, or Hair.
Madam Walker hoped the organization would "encourage the development of Race enterprises and acquaint the public with the superior claims of high class goods."  Walker was elected president, with women holding half of the six executive committee positions.

In September, about 200 men and women met at Mother AME Zion Church for the 10th annual convention of Monroe Trotter's National Equal Rights League.  Delegates voted to demand that President Wilson abolish segregation in federal office and interstate travel, present disenfranchisement of black voters, and make lynching a federal crime.  Their "Address to the American People" stated that "We are still surrounded by an adverse sentiment which makes our lives a living hell."  
Born on American soil, our ancestors here for centuries, we like the rest of you are Americans, and speak as true Americans. Having watered the American soil with our tears, enriched it with our blood, defended it in every war, never disloyal or untrue to its best interests, manifesting now common interest with all true Americans in its welfare, honor and glory, we, in our hour of extremity, appeal to your conscience, sense of justice and .fair play and demand that the many outrages and indignities cease and our race be accorded the same rights and privileges accorded all other Americans. 
Despite progress we are still surrounded by an adverse sentiment which makes our lives a living hell. 
We are shut out by trades-unions, and refused work. We are rejected in business, in professional service and even by the government as clerks solely because of color. The Senate of the United States has gone so far as to have a jim-crow corner in its gallery. 
Neither the Churches of Christ nor the Courts of Law have overcome the color line, in our Southland it has long been the custom, when a Colored man is accused of crime to set aside "the usual process of law and turn him over to the mob to be stabbed, hung, shot or burned at the stake outrages that would not be permitted in any other country on the globe. 
. . . The most discouraging feature is that the white pulpit is usually silent and the white press silent, if not siding with the mob. These inhuman outrages have been winked at by those in authority until they are no longer confined to the South, but are spreading through the entire country and are casting a blot upon American Civilization that cannot be effaced. At a time like this when our country is in war to uphold democracy and to prove that our government is the best on earth and as President Wilson said, we should "establish in this country justice with heart in it and sympathy in it," it behooves the American people to make these outrages against humanity impossible. 
Not only should the "World be made safe for Democracy," but "Democracy should be made safe for the World." 
. . . The National Equal Rights League congratulates the nation upon the fact that the basic principles of the government, human equality and human freedom, have been applied with increasing comprehensiveness to those races which make seven-eights of our population. . . It declares that the increasing 
withdrawal of these principles from the other eighth of the population is a challenge of the patriotism of our governmental administrators and of our fellow white Americans.
The entrance, therefore, of the U. S. A. offensively into the most terrible war in history . . .can be justified only by vouchsafing freedom and equality of rights to all citizens of the United States regardless of the incidents of race or color over which they have no control. Likewise all true patriots should lay aside hatred and discrimination against fellow Americans.
Now comes the President of the United States and declares officially to the world that this government takes part in the European war to prom0te World Democracy and World Humanity. He tells the new army raised specifically to make the world "Safe for Democracy," that this war "draws us all closer together in human brotherhood as did the Revolutionary War for American Independence."
Hence, in view of his own words and of this war, we do now call upon President Wilson to abolish that essential violation of democracy, race segregation of government clerks, and to recommend to Congress the enactment of laws: (a) To enforce the 14th and 1 5th Amendments of the Constitution which forbid peonage and disfranchisement, thereby restoring to millions of Americans their civil and political rights; (b) To make lynching a federal crime; (c) To forbid segregation for race m interstate travel, or travel in federal territory.

. . . Colored Americans demand only that the "rights of free peoples and the common rights of mankind" which the government proclaims for Europe be also in the possession at home of all our citizens . . We believe in democracy. . . .
We demand equality of rights for all . . .
Ida B. Wells-Barnett
At the convention, Madam Walker was elected a vice-president-at-large.  She hosted a dinner for the delegates at her home; Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who had met Walker about 10 years earlier, spent time with Walker and visited the construction site of Walker's new Hudson River home.
We drove out there almost every day, and I asked her on one occasion what on earth she would do with a thirty-room house.  She said, "I want plenty of room in which to entertain my friends.  I have worked so hard all of my life that I would like to rest."
Villa Lewaro
Walker had commissioned Vertner Tandy to design a house for her in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, about 20 miles north of the city. In addition to the mansion, there was a formal Italian garden and a swimming pool. At the suggestion of tenor Enrico Caruso, the estate was called Villa Lewaro, an acronym based on the first letters of the name of Lelia Walker Robinson. The house cost $250,000 to build. In November, the New York Times Magazine printed a feature titled "Wealthiest Negro Woman's Suburban Mansion."  It overestimated her net worth, asserting that she had become the first American woman to make a million dollars on her own in business.  The impression remained, although she told the press
I am not a millionaire, but I hope to be some day . . . not because of the money, but because I could do so much more to help my race.
Breathing Exercises at Battle Creek
Her health continued to deteriorate: a doctor finally diagnosed her with nephritis, an acute inflammation of the kidneys.  He recommended that she go to Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan for a long stay.  Battle Creek's director, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, had a strict regimen of fresh air, exercise, hydrotherapy, and a vegetarian diet.  Madam stayed for a few weeks, returning to New York in time to celebrate her 50th birthday and Christmas with Lelia.

In April 1918, Madam Walker went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the Madam C.J. Walker Benevolent Association meeting of 600 people, telling them:
What I have done, you can do . . . I am here to interest and inspire you.  
She moved into Villa Lewaro in May 1918; from the balcony outside her bedroom she could see the New Jersey Palisades above the Hudson River.  Walker told a reporter:
I had a dream and that dream begot other dreams until now I am surrounded by all my dreams come true.
In July, Walker and Mary Burnett Talbert celebrated a mortgage-burning ceremony marking the successful campaign to purchase Cedar Hill, the Washington, D.C. home of Frederick Douglass.  The women of NACW had plans to convert the house into a museum and archive dedicated to Douglass.  Walker had donated $500, which made her the largest single donor.


Mary Burnett Talbert
Mary Morris Burnett Talbert, born in Oberlin, Ohio in 1866 was the only African-American woman in her graduating class from Oberlin College in 1886.  She received a Bachelor of Arts degree and became a teacher. In 1891 she married William H. Talbert and moved to New York. She was one of the founders of the Niagara movement, and later was active in the  NAACP.  Talbert's long leadership of women's clubs helped to develop black female organizations and leaders in communities around New York and the United States.  Talbert led the campaign to save Douglass home in Anacostia, after other efforts had failed. 

In August 1918, Walker convened another convention in Chicago; in her keynote address, after being greeted with a standing ovation, she said
We are here not only to transact the business of the convention, not only to inspire and receive inspiration, but to pledge anew our loyalty and patriotism . . . and to say to our President that the Colored women of America are ready and willing to make any sacrifice necessary to bring our boys home victorious. . . 
I want you to know that whatever I have accomplished in life I have paid for it by much thought and hard work.  If there is any easy way, I haven't found it.  My advice to every one expecting to go into business is to strike with all your might. 
. . . I want my agents to feel that their first duty is to humanity. . . . I tell you that we have a duty to perform with reference to our brother and sister from the South.  Shall we who call ourselves Christians sit still and allow them to be swallowed up and lost in the slums of these great cities?
. . . Lend them the encouragement of your friendly interest, that the light of hope may continue to shine in their eyes and worthy ambitions continue to throb in their hearts.
On the final day of the conference, the Chicago Defender's headline was the story of two black women who had been tarred and feathered in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  One woman was the wife of a soldier in France.


When the United States had declared war against Germany in April of 1917, War Department planners realized that the United States' standing army of 126,000 men would not be enough to achieve a victory. The standard volunteer system proved to be inadequate in getting enough recruits, and on May 18, 1917 Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring all male citizens between the ages of 21 and 31 to register for the draft. Even before the act was passed, African American males from all over the country had joined the war effort: they viewed the conflict as an opportunity to prove their loyalty, patriotism, and worthiness for equal treatment in the United States. When World War I broke out, there were four all-black regiments in the United States Army: the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. Within one week of Wilson’s declaration of war, the War Department had to stop accepting black volunteers because the quotas for African Americans were filled. 

When it came to the draft, however, the discrimination was reversed, as draft boards attempted to draft more black men.  Draft boards were comprised entirely of white men; although there were no specific segregation provisions outlined in the draft legislation, blacks were told to tear off one corner of their registration cards so they could easily be identified and inducted separately. Now instead of turning blacks away, the draft boards were doing all they could to bring them into service, southern draft boards in particular. One Georgia county exemption board discharged forty-four percent of white registrants on physical grounds and exempted only three percent of black registrants based on the same requirements.   
It was fairly common for southern postal workers to deliberately withhold the registration cards of eligible black men and have them arrested for being draft dodgers. African American men who owned their own farms and had families were often drafted before single white employees of large planters. Although African Americans were just 10 percent of the entire United States population, blacks supplied 13 percent of inductees. 

Black soldiers, World War I
Very few blacks got the opportunity to serve in combat units; most were limited to labor battalions. The combat elements of the U.S. Army were kept completely segregated. The four established all-black Regular Army regiments were not used in overseas combat roles but instead were diffused throughout American-held territory. There was such a backlash from the African American community, however, that the War Department finally created the 92d and 93d Divisions, both primarily black combat units.  With the creation of  more African American units also came the demand for African-American officers. The War Department thought the soldiers would be more likely to follow men of their own color, thereby reducing the risk of any sort of uprising. Most leaders of the African American community agreed, and it was decided that the Army would create a segregated, but supposedly equal, officer training camp. In May 1917, Fort Des Moines opened its doors to black officer-trainees. In October, 639 African-American men received their commissions as either captain or first or second lieutenant, and were assigned to infantry, artillery, and engineer units with the 92d Division. This was to be the first and only class to graduate from Fort Des Moines; the War Department shut it down soon after their departure. 

Black draftees in the army were treated with hostility when they arrived for training. White men refused to salute black officers and black officers were often barred from the officer’s clubs and quarters. The War Department rarely interceded, and discrimination was usually overlooked; it was sometimes condoned. Because many Southern civilians protested having blacks from other states inhabit nearby training camps, the War Department stipulated that no more than one-fourth of the trainees in any Army camp in the U.S. could be African American. Black soldiers were often treated badly and sometimes went for long periods without proper clothing. 
Some were forced to eat outside in the winter months. 
Volunteers in the Red Cross Colored Auxiliary

The American Red Cross initially excluded black women as volunteers and nurses; later Colored Auxiliaries were created.  Madam Walker joined the advisory board of the Circle for Negro War Relief, which had been formed in November 1917 to assist soldiers and their families.  There were more than fifty chapters in the country.


Villa Lewaro



































Walker's first big event at Villa Lewaro was an afternoon reception to honor Emmett Scott, 
Joseph Douglass
with his grandfather,
Frederick Douglass
who had been Booker T. Washington's secretary.  Scott was now an Assistant Secretary of War.  Frederick Douglass' grandson, Joseph, was a featured violinist the during the afternoon.  
Joseph Douglass was a groundbreaking African-American concert violinist; he his first big break as a concert violinist at the age of 22 when he performed at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. Douglass was the first black violinist to make transcontinental tours; he toured extensively for three decades, performing in back educational institutions and churches.  In addition to his performing career, Douglass was an educator and conductor  with tenured positions.

One of the guests at the gala, William Jay Schieffelin, a Tuskegee board member, later criticized Madam Walker in a public letter  for speaking too militantly about the rights of black soldiers, saying that she was being racially divisive.  Schieffelin was a Park Avenue socialite active in reform politics. His family business, Schieffelin & Co., was one of the oldest in the city. He was a descendant of Chief Justice John Jay; his wife was the granddaughter of railroad tycoon William H. Vanderbilt.  Schieffelin was a prominent member of an elite group which believed that the battle for civic improvement was an obligation of their social rank. They formed the backbone of the liberal wing of the Republican Party, liberal on most social issues but pro-business and fiscally conservative.  Schieffelin was active in the NAACP and a trustee of the Hampton Institute in Virginia. As a reformer, Schieffelin also supported woman's suffrage, opposed sweatshops and served as an officer of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. But he also advocated the availability of cocaine by prescription early in the century when the move to ban it completely was gaining steam. 
William Jay Schieffelin

Madam Walker responded to his remarks by letter:
It gives me no little annoyance that you have misinterpreted my meaning . . . I feel it necessary to explain my position to you more fully that you will not again be in error in this particular respect.
 . . . The Negro in the south has been denied the use of firearms . . . and has been no match for the fiends and brutes who have taken advantage of his helplessness. . . . Now [black troops] will be returning.  To what?  Does any reasonable person imagine to the old order of things?  To submit to being strung up, riddled with bullets, burned at the stake?
No!  A thousand times No!  And what good friend, even of humanity, would wish it so? . . . They will come back to face like men, whatever is in store for them and like men defend themselves, their families, their homes . . .  
Please understand that this does not mean that I wish to encourage in any way a conflict between the races.  Such a thing is farthest from my mind.  My message to my people is this: Go live and conduct yourself so that you will be above the reproach of any one.  But should one prejudiced, irrational boast infringe upon [your] rights as men - resent the insults like men . . . and if death be the result, so be it.  An honorable death is far better than the miserable existence imposed upon most of our people in the south . . . 
I have tried so very hard to make you see the thing thru the eyes of a Negro, which I realize is next to impossible . . . Your talks would do a far greater good if you would point out to the white people just what their duties to the Negro are and be assured if the advice is heeded, there will be no reason to find fault with the execution of the Negro's duty to the white man. 
Madam Walker was in Boston on November 11, 1918, when the armistice was signed, ending armed hostilities.  She wrote to Ransom, "It seems that the whole country went mad over the peace imminence."  Madam Walker and Lelia went to Washington, D.C. for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Lelia had a new beau living there: Wiley Wilson, who was finishing his medical studies at Howard University.

In December, Madam Walker was one of 250 delegates attending Monroe Trotter's National
Monroe Trotter
Race Congress for World Democracy in Washington.  Many African Americans wanted to attend the planned Paris Peace Conference scheduled for the following month, and Walker was disappointed by the behavior of many delegates:

A lot of old ignoramus preachers - and every one wanted to be sent, or at least to have their particular friend sent.
Although Walker and Ida B. Wells received many votes to nominate them as representatives to the Peace Conference, the all-male nominating committee decided that no women would be sent, except as alternates, and named a delegation consisting of five men.  Madam Walker wrote to Ransom:
Mrs. B. registered a strong protest and declined the empty honors which resulted in our being elected from the floor, as full and legal delegates. . . . Since they have elected me, I shall go even if they cannot do everything for me in the way of expenses . . . Of course Lelia will accompany me.
Freeman Ransom responded:
I hope you will be very careful in not identifying yourself too closely with the Trotter bunch, who may do something that will bring the whole delegation into ill-repute or offend the country.  You must always bear in mind that you have a large business, whereas the others, who are going, have nothing.  There are many ways in which your business can be circumscribed and hampered so as to practically put you out of business.
He wrote again in late December:
 I am seriously of the opinion that you will not be able to get a passport.
The Espionage Act of 1917 was passed just after the United States entered World War I in April 1917. It was based on the Defense Secrets Act of 1911, but imposed much stiffer penalties than the previous law, including the death penalty.  It made it a crime to "convey information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the armed forces of the United States or to promote the success of its enemies." The law was extended on May 16, 1918, by the Sedition Act of 1911,  which prohibited many forms of speech, including "any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of government of the United States or the flag of the United States, or the uniform of the Army or Navy."

Much of the Act's enforcement was left to the discretion of local U.S. attorneys, so enforcement varied widely. Kate Richards O'Hare, a socialist, gave the same speech in several states, but was convicted and sentenced to a prison term of five years for delivering her speech in North Dakota. Most enforcement activity occurred in western states where the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was active.  A year after the Act's passage, Eugene V.
Eugene Debs
Debs, Socialist Party presidential candidate in 1904, 1908, and 1912 was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison for making a speech that "obstructed recruiting". He ran for president again in 1920 from prison.  In United States v. Motion Picture Film (1917), a federal court upheld the government's seizure of a film called The Spirit of '76 on the grounds that its depiction of cruelty on the part of British soldiers during the American Revolution would undermine support for America's wartime ally. The producer, Robert Goldstein, a Jew of German origins, was prosecuted under Title XI of the Act, and received a ten-year sentence plus a fine of $5000. 


Albert Burleson
Postmaster General Albert Burleson  and his department played critical roles in the enforcement of the Act. He held his position because he was a Democratic party loyalist and close to both President Wilson and the Attorney General. Born in Burleson came from a wealthy Southern planter family; his father, Edward Burleson, Jr., had been a Confederate officer. At a cabinet meeting on April 11, 1913, one month into President Wilson's first term, Burleson recommended that Wilson's administration segregate the mail service, and Wilson approved his recommendation.  Burleson and other cabinet members also recommended segregated federal workplaces, which Wilson instituted, requiring separate lunchrooms and restrooms. Burleson harrassed blacks already working in the mail service, and fired black postal workers in the South. 

After the United States entered the war, Burleson vigorously enforced the Espionage Act, ordering local postmasters to send to him any illegal or suspicious material that they found. 
At a time when the Department of Justice numbered its investigators in the dozens, the Post Office had a nationwide network in place. The day after the Act became law, Burleson sent a secret memo to all postmasters ordering them to keep "close watch on ... matter which is calculated to interfere with the success of ... the government in conducting the war." In New York City, the postmaster refused to mail The Masses, a socialist monthly, citing the publication's "general tenor." The Masses was more successful in the courts, where Judge Learned Hand found the Act was applied so vaguely as to threaten "the tradition of English-speaking freedom." The editors of  The Masses were then prosecuted for obstructing the draft, and the publication folded when it was denied access to the mails again. 

Villa Lewaro
At Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker celebrated her 51st birthday on December 23, and then hosted Christmas with 30 houseguests.  One was Hallie Elvira Queen, a Spanish teacher at Dunbar High School in Washington.  Fluent in Spanish, French and German, she had worked as an interpreter during the war.  She had also been chairman of Howard University's Red Cross chapter, and had done relief work during the East St. Louis riots.  What was not generally known at the time, however, was that she had also been hired in May 1917 by the War Department's Military Intelligence Division as an informant to monitor "Negro Subversion."

Walker's December holiday festivities were marred by news from the South: four black people were lynched in Mississippi.  A 35-year-old white dentist, E.L. Johnston, living on his father's farm, was shot and killed, and authorities arrested two African American brothers, Major and Andrew Clark, (age 20 and 15), and two African American sisters, Maggie and Alma (age 20 and 16). The two sisters had been living with the dentist, and both were pregnant by him.  Suspicion immediately focused on Major Clark, who worked for Johnston and had carried the mortally wounded dentist to his house. However, Johnston's father, a former member of the Mississippi state legislature, did not believe that Clark had killed his son and later even pleaded for Clark's life.  Many whites in the area believed that a white man had killed Johnston because of another sexual affair in which the dentist was involved. 

To extract a confession from Major Clark, the authorities placed his testicles between the “jaws of a vise” and slowly closed it until he "confessed" that he had killed Johnston. On the night of December 19, a mob stormed the jail at Shubuta, Mississippi, took all four prisoners, and hung them from a bridge over the Chickasawhay River.

Walter White, working for the NAACP, visited the scene of the execution and wrote the
Walter White, bottom right
at Atlanta University in 1916
report on it.  
White had graduated in 1916 from Atlanta University; in 1918 he joined the small national staff of the NAACP at the invitation of James Weldon Johnson. He acted as Johnson's assistant national secretary and traveled to the South to investigate racial incidents. White would later succeed Johnson as the head of the NAACP, leading the organization from 1931 to 1955.  Of mixed race with African and European ancestors on both sides, White appeared to be a white man.  Of his 32 closest ancestors, five were black and the other 27 were white. All members of his immediate family had fair skin, and his mother Madeline was also blue-eyed and blonde. He wrote in his autobiography, A Man Called White:
I am a Negro. My skin is white, my eyes are blue, my hair is blond. The traits of my race are nowhere visible upon me. 
William Henry Harrison
The oral history of his mother’s family was that her maternal grandparents were Dilsia, a slave, and her master, William Henry Harrison, who had six children with her. Walter White's grandmother,  Marie Harrison, was one of Dilsia's daughters by Harrison. When William Henry Harrison was running for president (he was elected as the ninth president in 1840), he thought it could be an embarrassment for him to own as slaves his own "bastard slave children," so he gave four of Dilsia's children to one of his brothers.  His brother sold them to a planter in Georgia.  Marie Harrison was later purchased by a wealthy doctor, Augustus Ware, who had four children with her.  After the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, Ware bought a house for Marie and her children to live in, and later passed on some money to the children.

White's family identified themselves as African American, and lived in Atlanta's black community.  After graduating from Atlanta University, White took a position with the Standard Life Insurance Company, one of the new and most successful businesses started by African Americans in Atlanta.  He also worked to organize a chapter of the new NAACP in Atlanta. At the invitation of  James Weldon Johnson, the 25-year-old White moved to New York City to work at the national headquarters. In addition to his other duties, White became an undercover agent in investigating lynchings in the South. White passed as a white man, often able to communicate with whites about the incidents.  The NAACP publicized information about the crimes, but virtually none was prosecuted by local or state governments in the South. 

In 1929, Walter White wrote "I investigate Lynchings" for the American Mercury magazine.
Walter White
Nothing contributes so much to the continued life of an investigator of lynchings and his tranquil possession of all his limbs as the obtuseness of the lynchers themselves. Like most boastful people who practice direct action when it involves no personal risk, they just  can’t help talk about their deeds to any person who manifests even the slightest interest in them.  Most lynchings take place in small towns and rural regions where the natives know practically nothing of what is going on outside their own immediate neighborhoods. Newspapers, books, magazines, theatres, visitors and other vehicles for the transmission of information and ideas are usually as strange among them as dry-point etchings. But those who live in so sterile an atmosphere usually esteem their own perspicacity in about the same degree as they are isolated from the world of ideas. They gabble on ad infinitum, apparently unable to keep from talking.

. . . As I was born in Georgia and spent twenty years of my life there, my accent is sufficiently Southern to enable me to talk with Southerners and not arouse their suspicion that I am an outsider. (In the rural South hatred of Yankees is not much less than hatred of Negroes.) 
On the morning of my arrival in the town I casually dropped into the store of one of the general merchants who, I had been informed, had been one of the leaders of the mob. After making a small purchase I engaged the merchant in conversation. There was, at the time, no other customer in the store. We spoke of the weather, the possibility of good crops in the fall, the political situation, the latest news from the war in Europe. As his manner became more and more friendly I ventured to mention guardedly the recent lynchings. Instantly he became cautious until I hinted that I had great admiration for the manly spirit the men of the town had exhibited. I mentioned the newspaper accounts I had read and confessed that I had never been so fortunate as to see a lynching. My words or tone seemed to disarm his suspicions. He offered me a box on which to sit, drew up another one for himself, and gave me a bottle of Coca-Cola.
“You’ll pardon me, Mister,” he began, “for seeming suspicious but we have to be careful. In ordinary times we wouldn’t have anything to worry about, but with the war there’s been some talk of the Federal government looking into lynchings. It seems there’s some sort of law during wartime making it treason to lower the man power of the country.”
“In that case I don’t blame you for being careful,” I assured him. “But couldn’t the Federal government do something if it wanted to when a lynching takes place, even if no war is going on at the moment?”
“Naw,” he said, confidently, proud of the opportunity of displaying his store of information to one who he assumed knew nothing whatever about the subject. “There’s no such law, in spite of all the agitation by a lot of fools who don’t know the niggers as we do. States’ rights won’t permit Congress to meddle in lynching in peace time.”
“But what about your State government, your Governor, your sheriff, your police officers?” “Humph! Them? We elected them to office, didn’t we? And the niggers, we’ve got them disfranchised, ain’t we? Sheriffs and police and Governors and prosecuting attorneys have got too much sense to mix in lynching-bees. If they do they know they might as well give up all idea of running for office any more, if something worse don’t happen to them.” This last with a tightening of the lips and a hard look in the eyes.
I sought to lead the conversation into less dangerous channels. “Who was the white man who was killed, whose killing caused the lynchings?” I asked.  “Oh, he was a hard one, all right. Never paid his debts to white men or niggers and wasn’t liked much around here. He was a mean ’un all right, all right.” “Why, then, did you lynch the niggers for killing such a man?”

“It’s a matter of safety. We gotta show niggers that they mustn’t touch a white man, no matter how low-down and ornery he is.” 
Little by little he revealed the whole story. When he told of the manner in which the pregnant woman had been killed he chuckled and slapped his thigh and declared it to be “the best show, Mister, I ever did see. You ought to have heard the wench howl when we strung her up.” Covering the nausea the story caused me as best I could, I slowly gained the whole story, with the names of the other participants. Among them were prosperous farmers, business men, bankers, newspaper reporters and editors, and several law-enforcement officers.
Freeman Ransom's annual report for 1918 to Madam Walker showed that her company earnings for the year had been $275,937, an increase of $100,000 over 1917.He wrote:
Your receipts exceeded over a quarter of a million and I have no doubt but that you can easily make it half a million in 1919.  You should congratulate yourself on a remarkable business and when I say remarkable, I am putting it mildly.
Robert Lansing
In late 1918, W.E.B Du Bois had begun to press the issue of black representation on the American delegation to the upcoming Paris Peace Conference, to be held at the palace of Versailles.  In a letter to Secretary of State Robert Lansing, Du Bois requested approval of passports for six "representative American Negroes" to travel to Paris and observe the conference.  He wrote that
It would be a calamity at the time of the transformation of the world to have two hundred million human beings absolutely without a voice.
Lansing, nominal head of the United States Commission to the Peace Conference, referred the matter to Frank Polk, Jr., also a member of the commission.  He recommended denying the passports, and responded to Lansing:
I think your inclination not to grant passports is a wise one as racial questions of this nature ought not to be a subject to come before the Conference.
A. Mitchell Palmer, who became United States Attorney General in 1919, told Congress that
There can no longer be any question of a well-concerted movement among a certain class of Negro leaders of thought and action to constitute themselves a determined and persistent source of a radical opposition to the government, and to the established rule of law and order.
Mitchell published his report, Radicalism and Sedition Among the Negroes as Reflected in their Publications, referring to the protests of blacks against lynching as incendiary documents. Mitchell and Wilson believed that black soldiers returning from Europe would carry Bolshevism to America.  Mitchell wrote:
Practically all the radical organizations in this country have looked upon the negroes as particularly fertile ground for the spreading of their doctrines.  These radical  organizations have endeavored to enlist negroes on their side, and in many respects have been successful. 
Woodrow Wilson, after his election in 1912, had offered Palmer the position of Secretary of War;
Woodrow Wilson and A. Palmer Mitchell
Palmer declined, citing his Quaker beliefs and heritage. He wrote to Wilson:

As a Quaker War Secretary, I should consider myself a living illustration of a horrible incongruity....In case our country should come into armed conflict with any other, I would go as far as any man in her defense; but I cannot, without violating every tradition of my people and going against every instinct of my nature, planted there by heredity, environment and training, sit down in cold blood in an executive position and use such talents as I possess to the work of preparing for such a conflict.
Following the United States' entry into World War I, Palmer volunteered, despite his Quaker background, to "carry a gun as a private" if necessary, or to "work in any capacity without compensation." Nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker,", he chaired his local draft board for a time.  In September 1918, Palmer testified at hearings held by a Senate committee that the  overwhelmingly German liquor industry harbored pro-German sentiments. Even after Germany's surrender, Palmer continued the campaign to make American industry independent of German ownership. Worried by the revolution that had taken place in Russia, Palmer became convinced that Communist agents were planning to overthrow the American government. His view was reinforced by the discovery of thirty-eight bombs sent to leading politicians and the Italian anarchist who blew himself up outside Palmer's Washington home. Palmer recruited J. Edgar Hoover as his special assistant and together they used launched a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations.

On January 2, 1919, Madam Walker welcomed a new coalition to Villa Lewaro: The
International League of Darker Peoples (IDLP).  Among the activists were Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Reverend Frederick Cullen (the adoptive father of Countee Cullen), A. Phillip Randolph and Marcus Garvey.  On the list of demands was independence and autonomy for African nations.  Randolph, the League's secretary, wrote:
The world cannot be "made safe for democracy" while Africa is unsafe for the Africans.
A. Phillip Randolph was born in Florida, the son of James William Randolph, an itinerant
A. Phillip Randolph
African Methodist Episcopal preacher, and Elizabeth Robinson. The family placed great stress on education. Randolph, an honor student, was sent to Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida. Randolph resisted pressure from his father to enter the ministry, and later became an atheist. 
Upon graduation from Cookman, in 1907, he found himself barred by racial prejudice from all but manual labor jobs in the South.  In 1911 he moved to New York City, where he worked at odd jobs during the day and took social science courses at City College at night.  The radical ideologies advocated by the Socialists and the Industrial Workers of the World, then at their peak of influence, helped form his philosophy. Randolph joined the Socialist party and became a soapbox orator in Harlem, speaking for black unionism. With partners, he  opened an employment office in Harlem, began a training program for migrants arriving from the South, and tried, unsuccessfully, to organize black workers into unions. 

Lucille Campbell Green in 1910
In 1913 Randolph married Lucille Campbell Green, a widow six years older than himself whom he had met while acting in Shakespearean plays for a Harlem theater group. Lucille, a Howard University graduate and former schoolteacher, was one of the first graduates of Leila College's Harlem branch. As a Walker agent who owned her own beauty shop, she made enough to support Randolph's work as an activist. 

Randolph began publishing The Messenger magazine in 1917 with the slogan the "only magazine of scientific radicalism in the world published by Negroes." Randolph was a pacifist, and he and his partner, Chandler Owen, conducted a public speaking tour against the war. Their statements in print and in speeches led to Justice Department agents ransacking The Messenger′s editorial office in the middle of the night, breaking furniture and confiscating back issues. In August 1918, in Cleveland, Ohio, Randolph and Owen spoke to the mass meeting gathered by Cleveland’s Socialist Party leader, Walter Bronstrup. Issues of The Messenger were soldin the crowd until an undercover Justice Department official bought an issue and broke up the meeting. Randolph was pulled from the stage, arrested with Owen, and held for investigation. Randolph and Owen were charged with violating the Espionage Act:
unlawfully, knowingly and feloniously, the United States being then and there at war with the Imperial German Government, willfully print and cause to be printed, publish and cause to be published, circulated, in a certain language intended to incite, provoke and incur resistance to the United States and to promote the cause of its enemies in a certain publication known as The Messenger.
After two days in jail they were brought to trial. The judge, looking at the two men and what
they had written, said that he could not believe they were old enough, or, being black, smart enough, to write that “red-hot stuff”. He believed that they were being used by white socialists who had written the editorials for them. The judge ruled that there would be no trial and ordered Randolph and Owen to immediately leave the city and return to their parents' homes. Back in New York, they learned that Postmaster General Burleson had denied second-class mailing privileges to their magazine because of its content. The Department of Justice labeled the The Messenger "the most able and the most dangerous of all the Negro publications." 

As Madam Walker advertised in The Messenger, and had been featured in stories, her own inclusion on the State department's "Subversive List" may have been caused in part by her association with A. Phillip and Lucille Randolph, who were both socialists at the time. One of her assistants, Louis George, a member of the IDLP's executive committee, was also the advertising manager for The Messenger.  George and his wife, Czarina, were among Lelia Walker Robinson's closest friends.  Freeman Ranson disapproved of Louis George because he had mismanaged business and money in the New York office, and wrote to Madam Walker:
I know you are fond of Louis George and I do not wish to hurt him in your estimation, but because you are fond of him does not make him fit to manage large affairs or lead the Race.  You certainly have seen enough to know he is utterly incompetent along business lines. 
Madam Walker with Kuriowa, Trotter and Randoph
at the Waldorf-Astoria meeting
Learning that the members of the Japanese peace delegation were in New York, the League sent them a floral arrangement "as a token of friendship and brotherhood."  Five days after the ILDP meeting at Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker hosted a meeting at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel for IDLP delegates and Shuroku Kuriowa, a Japanese publisher and novelist who was a member of the Japanese delegation. According to the ILDP minutes, Kuriowa promised that the race question would be raised at the Paris Peace Conference.

Freeman Ransom continued to warn Walker about her association with the ILDP; writing:
I, for one, am sorry that [Villa Lewaro] was the birthplace for such an organization . . . The only thing I am concerned with is the danger of your becoming identified with some person or persons whose acts will hurt your future in this country. . . . You cannot be too careful in this respect.
In February, Madam Walker resigned from the ILDP, writing in her letter:
Owing to the fact that my physician has advised against my participation in public affairs, I herewith tender my resignation.
W.E.B. Du Bois travelled to France as editor of The Crisis magazine.  Madam Walker hoped to travel there, also, but her application for a passport was denied.  Freeman Ransom learned from his contacts that her name had been added to the War Department's Military Intelligence Division's list of "Negro Subversives."  
The Paris Peace Conference
The Paris Peace Conference was the gathering of the Allied victors following the end of World War I. Its purpose was to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. Diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities attended. The major decisions were the creation of the League of Nations; the five peace treaties with defeated enemies, including the Treaty of Versailles with Germany; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as "mandates," chiefly to Britain and France; reparations imposed on Germany, and the drawing of new national boundaries. 

The conference opened on January 18, 1919. Delegates from 27 nations were assigned to 52 commissions, which held 1,646 sessions to prepare reports, with the help of many experts, on topics ranging from prisoners of war, to undersea cables, to international aviation, to responsibility for the war. The five major powers (France, Britain, Italy, the U.S. and Japan) controlled the Conference. In practice, Japan played a small role and the "Big Four" leaders
"The Big Four" leaders
were the dominant figures at the conference. They met together informally and made all the major decisions, which in turn were ratified by the others. The conference came to an end on January 21, 1920 with the inaugural General Assembly of the League of Nations.

Japan proposed the inclusion of a "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations; it read:
The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
President Wilson, as Conference chairman, ruled that a unanimous vote was required. On April 11, 1919 the commission held a final session and the proposal received a majority of votes, but Great Britain and Australia opposed it. The Australians had lobbied the British to defend Australia's "White Australia" policy. The defeat of the proposal influenced Japan's turn from cooperation with West toward more nationalistic policies.

Paris Peace Conference at Versailles



The Treaty of Versailles laid the guilt for the war on "the aggression of Germany and her allies." This provision proved humiliating for Germany and set the stage for very high reparations Germany was supposed to pay (it would pay only a small portion before reparations ended in 1931). The humiliation and resentment in Germany is sometimes considered as one of the causes of Nazi success and indirectly a cause of World War II.

In February 1919, Lelia and Mae departed on a business trip to the Caribbean and Central America, intending to return to the United States in August.  Madam Walker, prevented from traveling to Europe, began preparing in March for a trip to the Midwest. While in Indianapolis, she told the Indianapolis Recorder:
Let me correct the erroneous impression held by some that I claim to straighten hair.  I deplore such impression because I have always held myself out as a hair culturist.  I grow hair.
She traveled to St. Louis, but in late April became so ill that she was confined to bed.  She confided to her friend, Jessie Robinson, that she thought she had only a short time left to live:
My desire now is to do more than ever for my race.  I would love to live for them.
She returned to New York in a private Pullman car, accompanied by a physician.  At Villa Lewaro, she and Freeman Ransom drafted and signed a codicil to her will.  She was unable
to leave her home to attend a rally for the NAACP's anti-lynching campaign, but pledged $5,000, which was equivalent to about $65,000 in today's dollars, to the fund.

Her room at Villa Lewaro was full of floral arrangements and get-well cards.  On May 16, she was happy to hear from Lelia that she had decided to marry Captain James Arthur Kennedy, an army surgeon.  Walker much preferred Kennedy to Lelia's other boyfriend, Wiley Wilson.  Walker was unable to write, but dictated a letter to Lelia:
My Darling Baby, You made me very happy to know that at last you have decided to marry Kennedy.  Altho I have never let you know this - it has been my wish ever since I met Wiley in Wash.  I never thought he would make you happy, but I do believe Kennedy will.  Let me know what time in August you will return. . . If you think it best, I will announce the engagement while you are away.  . . My wish is for you to have a quiet wedding out here and leave shortly after for France.  You may get your chateau and I will follow.  Then I will take my contemplated trip around the world.  Let Kennedy study abroad for a year.  I will make France my headquarters.  I never want you to leave me to go this far again. . . . Love to you and Mae and I send my love, kisses and kisses and kisses.  Your devoted Mother.
 Walker's condition continued to deteriorate, and on Saturday, May 24, she slipped into a coma.  On Sunday morning, May 25, she died at the age of 51.

Lelia and Mae were on a steamer en route to New York, and received the news aboard the ship.  Black church-goers in New York City heard about it from their ministers.  Freeman Ransom took calls from newspapers while arranging the funeral.  He believed that Lelia would be back in the country in a few days, and scheduled the services for Friday, May 31st.

The day after Madam Walker's death, The New York Times obituary read:
May 26, 1919 - Wealthiest Negress Dead
Mrs. C. J. Walker, known as New York's wealthiest negress, having accumulated a fortune from the sale of so-called anti-kink hair tonic and from real estate investments in the last fourteen years, died yesterday morning at her country estate at Irvington-on-Hudson. 
She was proprietor of the Madame Walker hair dressing parlors at 108 West 136th Street and other places in the city. Her death recalled the unusual story of how she rose in twelve years from a washerwoman making only $1.50 a day to a position of wealth and influence among members of her race.
Estimates of Mrs. Walker's fortune had run up to $1,000,000. She said herself two years ago that she was not yet a millionaire, but hoped to be some time, not that she wanted the money for herself, but for the good she could do with it. 
She spent $10,000 every year for the education of young negro men and women in Southern colleges and sent six youths to Tuskegee Institute every year. She recently gave $5,000 to the National Conference on Lynching.
Born fifty-one years ago, she was married at 14, and was left a widow at 20 with a little girl to support. She worked as a cook, washerwoman, and the like until she had reached the age of about 37. One morning while bending over her wash she suddenly realized that there was no prospect on her meager wage of laying away anything for old age.  She had often said that one night shortly afterward she had a dream and something told her to start a hair tonic business, which she did, in Denver, Col., on a capital of $1.25.
In a few years she had accumulated a large sum, and invested in real estate in the West and South and in New York State, nearly all the property greatly increasing in value. She then owned a $50,000 home in the northern part of this city, which some years ago she gave to her daughter, Mrs. Lelia Walker Robinson, associated with her in business. In 1917 Madame Walker completed at Irvington, on the banks of the Hudson, a mansion which cost $250,000, and since then had made her home there. The house, which is one of the show places in the vicinity, is three stories high and consists of thirty or more rooms. She had installed in this home an $8,000 organ with furnishings, including bronze and marble statuary, cut glass candelabra, tapestries, and paintings, said to be of intrinsic beauty and value.
A. Clayton Powell, Sr.
On Friday morning, although Lelia and Mae had not yet returned, family members and friends gathered at Villa Lewaro.  Pallbearers carried the bronze casket to the hearse, which was driven to New York City.  Madam Walker's funeral service was held in Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.  After Reverend A. Clayton Powell's obituary, Mary McLeod Bethune delivered the eulogy:
She has gone, but her work still lives and shall live as an inspiration to not only her race but to the world.
Before the service ended, a telegram arrived from Lelia, saying that she would reach Villa Lewaro that afternoon.  The hearse took the casket to a receiving vault at Woodlawn Cemetery in Brooklyn.  Lelia and Mae did not get into New York until the next day; Lelia was too distraught to go to the cemetery for the burial.  Finally, on Tuesday, June 3rd, Lelia and a small group buried her mother in a private graveside ceremony.


Madam C.J. Walker's Grave
Madam Walker's death was news all over the world.  An Associated Press article called her "the wealthiest negro woman in the United States, if not the entire world." At the time of her death, Walker was sole owner of her business, which was valued at more than $1 million. Her personal fortune was estimated at between $600,000 and $700,000, which would be around 8 million dollars in today's money.   Walker is widely credited as the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire.  Earlier, she had stated that she was not yet a millionaire, but that she wanted and intended to be one.  Shortly before her death, she told a reporter that she hoped to give "a million dollars to help my Race fight for its rights."

To her daughter Lelia, Madam Walker left all her real estate and one-third of the net profits of the Madam C.J. Walker Company.  The remaining two-thirds of the company's net proceeds were to be divided equally between maintenance of Villa Lewaro and "the benefit of worthy charities."  The charities included Tuskegee Institute, Mary McLeod Bethune's Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute, and other schools, orphan homes, missions, and YMCAs and YWCAs.  
In addition, there were bequests to her granddaughter Mae and others, including her friend and factory forelady, Alice Kelly. One of the beneficiaries was Parthenia Rollins, who had come to work for Walker around 1915, when she was around 75 years old. Enslaved in Kentucky as a child, Rollins became Walker’s cook nearly a half century after her emancipation. Rollins was named as a beneficiary in the will and continued to receive a salary until her death, when she was buried at the expense of the Walker Company.
Lelia, 1919

Lelia's 34th birthday was on June 6, 1919, just three days after burying her mother. It was also the day of her marriage to Wiley Wilson; although earlier in May she had told her mother that she would marry Dr. James Kennedy, he was not yet divorced from his first wife.  At some point, she decided to marry Wilson, who was unattached, legally.

In Indianapolis, Freeman Ransom was dealing with the transition of the company.  In June, Lelia and her new husband stopped in Indianapolis on the way to their two-month honeymoon in California and Hawaii.  Ransom told Lelia of his concerns about the financial status of the company, as well as the claims of John Davis, Walker's second husband, on the estate (Madam Walker had not legally been divorced from John Davis). Other family members who had not been included in the will were also making claims.

Lelia became the president of the company and returned to her home in Harlem in the fall of 1919.  She bought a Seventh Avenue building for her husband to use as his medical clinic.  However, Wilson was involved with an old girlfriend who he continued to see in public; the marriage was rocky from the start.  


1920 Walker Company advertisement
The Walker company, however, continued to grow in sales in the two years after Madam Walker's death.  In 1921, sales dropped during a brief depression, and they continued to decline during the 1920s.  Competition was strong from Annie Turnbo-Malone's Poro company and others.  Lelia attended the annual conventions and travelled to represent the company, but her efforts and skills were not as strong as those of her mother.
    
Lelia separated from Wiley Wilson in the fall of 1921In November, she sailed to Europe on a luxurious ocean liner and spent some time in Paris, France.  In January 1922, she traveled south to Nice and Monaco.  While in Rome, she attended the coronation of Pope Pius XI.  She then sailed south for a tour of Palestine, Egypt, the Red Sea, and Ethiopia. During the trip, she was corresponding with James Arthur Kennedy, her former fiance.  He wrote that he hoped her 
entire tour may be like a beautiful long road strewn with fragrant crimson flowers, the end of which terminates within the circumference of my arms.
Lelia's portrait,
 with an inscription to
Carl Van Vechten
And apparently it did: when Lelia returned to New York in April 1922, they decided to marry after both their divorces were final.

Carl Van Vechten
Lelia's interests, passions and time were drawn to the social and cultural activities of Harlem. In 1922, she changed her name to A'Lelia (pronounced Ah-LEEL-ya).  She became a well-known hostess to Harlem's cultural elite.  Carl Van Vechten, the writer and photographer, and his Russian-born wife, Fania Marinoff, were two of her closest friends.  The character of "Adora" in one of his novels was based on A'Lelia.  Van Vechten later wrote in an unpublished eulogy:
She looked like a queen and frequently acted like a tyrant.  She was tall and
A'Lelia in turban
black and extremely handsome in her African manner.  She often dressed in black.  When she assumed more regal habiliments, rich brocades of gold or silver, her noble head bound in a turban, she was a magnificent spectacle.
Langston Hughes, who was a young poet at the time he met A'Lelia, later became a novelist and activist, and was known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s; during the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement," named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. The Harlem Renaissance is generally considered to have spanned from about 1918 until the mid-1930s.  Langston Hughes later wrote about her:
Langston Hughes
A'Lelia was the then great Harlem party giver . . . She made no pretense at being intellectual or exclusive.   At her "at homes" Negro poets and Negro numbers bankers mingled with downtown poets and seats-on-the-stock-exchanged racketeers.  . . . And a good time was had by all. A'Lelia Walker was the joy-goddess of Harlem's 1920s.
In November 1923, A’Lelia staged "The Million Dollar Wedding” of her adopted daughter, Mae Walker, 25, to Dr. Gordon Henry Jackson, a Chicago surgeon who was thirteen years her senior. Jackson's father, George Henry Jackson had been born in  1847; George Jackson's parents were free, but his grandparents had once been slaves of the Custis family of Arlington, Virginia. Jackson's family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1849. Under the tutelage of Peter Humphries Clark, George Jackson studied to become a teacher. In the late 1870s, he met and married Virginia Gordon, the daughter of Cincinnati coal dealer Robert Gordon.  Gordon had been born a slave in Virginia, but worked to purchasee his freedom, and later made a fortune in the coal business after moving to Ohio.  With the financial help of his father-in-law, George Jackson gave up teaching and entered law school. He began practicing law in 1884. As members of an affluent and refined African American upper class, George and Virginia Jackson were able to purchase a home and live comfortably in an area of Cincinnati that was predominantly white.  

Mae Walker with Gordon Jackson
on their wedding day
Hoping for an heir for the Walker family, the wedding was A’Lelia Walker’s scheme to unite two prosperous black families: Mae with her inheritance from Madam Walker, and Jackson, whose grandfather, Robert Gordon, had been one of the 19th century’s wealthiest black businessmen.  A'Lelia coordinated a week of pre-nuptial festivities with parties and wedding showers; the wedding is estimated to have cost around $42,000, which would be equivalent to about half a million dollars in 2014.  A'Lelia chose Mae's bridesmaids: Anita Thompson a bridesmaid who was a daughter of a Los Angeles NAACP official, later wrote:
Most of the bridesmaids had never met before, but our parents knew each other since we were among America’s small percentage of relatively affluent Negroes . . .  Mae was retiring and quiet, but we all liked her very much. She was a doll, short with a lovely brown complexion and beautiful hair.
. . . While we liked Mae, we were not too crazy about the groom . . . He came from a "good family," but was something of a spendthrift and a playboy.
Mae confided to Anita that she was in love with a young man her own age; Anita said that she tried to persuade Mae to elope with the man she actually loved, but Mae was too afraid to defy A’Lelia. 

Lester Walton, the black columnist for The New York World, wrote
Bridesmaids
In keeping with the late Madam Walker’s policy of encouraging race patronage, all the outfits worn by the bride, matron of honor, bridesmaids and flower girls were designed and made by Negroes.  The one exception was the gown worn by Mrs. A’Lelia Walker Wilson, which came from Paris.
A'Lelia mailed out 9,000 invitations because she had calculated the publicity it would generate.  She wrote to Freeman Ransom:

This is the swellest wedding any colored folks have ever had or will have in the world . . . While its purpose certainly is not for the advertising, God knows we are getting $50,000 worth of publicity. Everything has its compensation.
On Saturday, November 24, the day before Mae’s twenty-fifth birthday, she and her bridesmaids arrived in the rain at St. Phillip's Episcopal Church. The sidewalks were crowded with thousands of curious onlookers. The New York Times reported:
A fashionable parade of fur emerged from chauffeured cars . . . Mink coats, squirrel coats, ermine coats. And the jewels—it seemed as if Tiffany’s had got into partnership with Black, Starr & Frost.
Anita Thomas wrote:
When we left the church, the streets around St. Philip’s were packed as though for a Marcus Garvey demonstration . . . It seemed like all of Harlem had turned out to see the wedding. It was a great day for A’Lelia, if not for Mae.
At a reception at Villa Lewaro, photographs were taken of the wedding party.  After a honeymoon in Philadelphia, Mae moved to Chicago. 

The following year, A'Lelia married Dr. Kennedy on May 1, 1926 in Freeman Ransom's home in Indianapolis.
Lelia, 1916
 Kennedy's medical practice was in Chicago; the couple planned to live in both Chicago and New York City, travelling back and forth as often as possible. Later, however, Kennedy accepted a position at Tuskegee's black veterans' hospital, where his wife was less willing to visit him.

In the same month as her mother's wedding, Mae Walker Jackson, who was eight months pregnant, moved out from the home she shared with her husband, and into her own apartment.  Mae gave birth to a son, Walker Gordon Jackson, in June 1926.  Shortly afterwards, Mae hired a well-known Chicago attorney and began divorce proceedings against Gordon Jackson. By the fall of 1926,  she was back in New York.  The divorce became final in December. In 1927, at a Villa Lewaro party hosted by A'Lelia, Mae met Marion Rowland Perry, an attorney. Mae and Marion Perry eloped in September 1927.  Perry adopted her son, and their daughter, A’Lelia Mae Perry, was born in July 1928.

Countee Cullen
In  October 1927, A’Lelia started a salon called “The Dark Tower.”  Its name was inspired by a poem written by her friend, poet Countee Cullen.  A'Lelia planned it as a place for poetry readings and art exhibits that would be "informal, homey and comfortable."  She converted a floor of her Harlem townhouse into a space that would be open to the public, especially black artists. However, the original concept developed into something more like an upscale tea room and nightclub, and was too expensive for most of the artists it was originally intended for.  A'Lelia was unable to break even on the project, and it closed within a year. Beginning in late 1928, A'Lelia rented The Dark Tower space for private parties, meetings and receptions.  By then, she need the income, as sales for the company had continued to drop.

In August 1928, during the 12th annual Walker agents convention, A'Lelia Walker and
Art-Deco 
in Walker Theater
Freeman Ransom opened the new Walker building in Indianapolis.  
The company had hired one of the best-known architectural firms in Indianapolis, Rubush & Hunter, to design the multi-storied, brick "flatiron" shaped building.  In addition to being the national headquarters and manufacturing site for the products, it was also intended to be a community cultural center.  There was a ballroom, a theater, and a hair salon. The brick exterior was trimmed in ornamented architectural terra cotta inspired by African art. The interior continued the African theme with "Deco-ized" Egyptian and Moorish plaster work in the Art Deco theater, which served not only as a movie house, but also as a showcase for live jazz.

A year later, on October 24, 1929, the stock market crashed.  It was the beginning of the 10-
Auction Notice, 1930
year Great Depression that affected all Western industrialized countries.  Walker company sales had already declined, and the new building had increased expenses. 
In 1930, the trustees of the Walker estate decided to auction the contents of Villa Lewaro. In addition, A’Lelia was financially forced to sell or pawn much of her personal jewelry and art.  She rented the Harlem town house to the New York City Health Department for a pediatric clinic. 

Freeman Ransom
Freeman Ransom pressured A'Lelia to find a buyer for Villa Lewaro.  Her hypertension and heart problems became more acute as she worried about money, debt, and the end of her marriage to Dr. James Arthur Kennedy, whom she divorced in March 1931.  In a letter dated August 12, 1931, Freeman Ransom wrote to A'Lelia:
We are merely taking in money enough to take care of the payroll, notwithstanding that the payroll has been greatly reduced.  We are able to do nothing about our outstanding bills . . . I am letting the factory people off every other week . . . I just want you to know how things are going.
A'Lelia at Villa Lewaro
On August 15, A'Lelia and a close friend of hers, Mayme White, drove to Long Branch, New Jersey, for a weekend-long birthday party for their friend Mae Fain.  A group of women spent the day at the beach and had a champagne and lobster dinner on Saturday night.  A'Lelia woke up the next morning with a severe headache.  On Monday morning, August 17, she was pronounced dead of a cerebral hemorrhage.  She was 46 years old. 

Visitation was held on the following Friday morning: thousands of people filed past her
A'Lelia Walker's funeral
casket at Howell's Funeral Home in New York City.  On Saturday, 1,000 people gathered for the invitation-only funeral.  Langston Hughes wrote in his autobiography:

When A’ Lelia Walker died in 1931, she had a grand funeral . . . But, just as for her parties, a great many more invitations had been issued than the small but exclusive Seventh Avenue funeral parlor could provide for . . . That was really the end of the gay times of the New Negro era in Harlem, the period that had begun to reach its end when the crash came in 1929.
The Reverend A. Clayton Powell, Sr., opened the service with a reading of psalms from the Bible.  A'Lelia's daughter, Mae, her friend Mayme White, and Freeman Ransom sat in the front row of seats while music was performed by A'Lelia's
Mary McLeod Bethune
friends.  Mary McLeod Bethune delivered the eulogy. Langston 
Hughes contributed a poem he had written two days after her death, "To A'Lelia," which read, in part:
So all who love laughter
And joy and light,
Let your prayers be as roses
For this queen of the night.

A'Lelia was buried next to her mother's grave at Woodlawn Cemetery. 

When A’Lelia died, the one-third share of stock she owned was split between her daughter, Mae, and Freeman Ransom; the majority two-thirds remained in the Walker Trust. A'Lelia's will instructed that at Ransom's death, his share should go to his daughter, A'Lelia Ransom. The will was contested in a suit brought by Willie Powell, son of Madam Walker's sister, Louvenia, and by Anjetta Breedlove, Madam Walker's niece. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed.


Villa Lewaro
Villa Lewaro became the Anne E. Poth Home for Convalescent and Aged Members of the Companions of the Forest in America. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1976, which provided for some architectural protection and tax benefits.  In the early 1990’s, Ambassador Harold Doley and his wife, Helena, purchased Villa Lewaro. In 2014, the National Trust for Historic Presevation began a project with the support of Doley, which it called "Envisioning Villa Lewaro's Future"  to determine the use and maintenance of the mansion.

In 1985, the Trustees petitioned the Marion County Probate court to allow them to sell the stock and assets of Madame Walker’s company, including inventory and historical documents, to Raymond L. Randolph. The owners of the remaining shares of stock also agreed to sell their shares to Randolph; he became the first person, and the first man, since Madame C.J. Walker herself to own all 1000 shares of stock in the company.  


The Madam C. J. Walker Company moved from the Walker building in 1985, and the trustees of the Walker estate transferred the building to a non-profit group called the Madam Walker Urban Life Center. Today the building houses a cultural arts organization and is known as the Madame Walker Theatre Center. 

In 1998 the United States Postal Service issued a stamp of Madam C.J. Walker as part of its "Black Heritage" series.

In 2001, A'Lelia Bundles, the granddaughter of Mae Walker Perry, published On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.





“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.”

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