Madam C.J. Walker’s Internationalism

Madam C.J. Walker is best known as the first African American female millionaire in the United States. Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 in Delta, Louisiana, Walker rose to fame during the early 20th century after making a fortune marketing beauty and hair products. Walker’s widespread influence, however, extended far beyond the world of cosmetology. The self-made millionaire was a political activist who played a key role in black internationalist movements, joining forces with a diverse group of black activists committed to ending racism, colonialism, and imperialism.

Walker’s internationalist activities coincided with key historical developments of the early 20th century including World War I, European colonial rule in Africa, and the rapid growth of American imperial expansion overseas. Maintaining a global racial consciousness, Walker joined the chorus of black voices in this period denouncing developments such as the U.S. Occupation of Haiti and colonization by Western European powers of countries such as Togo and Cameroon.

During the early 20th century, Walker supported the efforts of the Jamaican black nationalist Marcus Garvey, leader of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Founded by Garvey in Jamaica in 1914, with the assistance of Amy Ashwood, the UNIA relocated to Harlem in 1918, where it drew a significant following of black men and women from across the globe. Though she did not join the UNIA, Walker worked closely with the organization’s leaders and provided financial backing. Embracing Garvey’s vision of Pan-African unity, political self-determination, and black self-sufficiency, Walker contributed funds to launch the organization’s newspaper, the Negro World. She also assisted with expenses for the organization’s new headquarters in Harlem. [Click here to read more]