Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow

From the publisher: “Founder of a beauty empire, Madam C. J. Walker was celebrated as America’s first self-made female millionaire in the early 1900s. Known as a leading African American entrepreneur, Walker was also devoted to an activist philanthropy aimed at empowering African Americans and challenging the injustices inflicted by Jim Crow. “

It is too bad I had not heard of C.J. Walker until several years ago when watching a documentary on the history of African Americans in the United States. Now, of course, with the Netflix series Self Made, more people are learning about this remarkable woman. A black woman who succeeded in the era of Jim Crow. “The first self-made female millionaire.”


Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving is not a straight biography of Sarah Breedlove. This is an academic study of her philanthropy during her lifetime. It is the story of all women of color and their “Gospel of Giving.” What I found interesting is that the author notes that philanthropic studies were made on elite male and female models of charitable giving, and when Madam Walker is mentioned, she isn’t given her due. She is seen as a rarity, interesting yet “inconsequential.” 

But as author Tyrone McKinley Freeman shows us, Madam Walker was far from the only black woman who was a philanthropist. Black women gave back, even when they had very little to themselves in the first place. Young Sarah Breedlove learned at an early age that to be helpful to others was something to be done regardless of how much money one had. Walker accumulated great wealth, but she also gave much away. Not huge endowments like Carnegie and Rockefeller, but she did her part. 

This is an excellent book in encouraging the discussion of black women’s roles in the history of the United States. It’s quite scholarly at times, but there’s nothing wrong with a little learning in our adult lives, now is there?

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving will be released October 12, 2020 by the University of Illinois Press. 

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