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

Univ. of Illinois. Oct. 2020. 296p. ISBN 9780252085352. pap. $24.95. BIOG
Freeman (philanthropic studies, Indiana Univ.) debuts with an in-depth biography of Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919), famous for being the first woman in the United States to become a self-made millionaire. Born Sarah Breedlove to enslaved parents in rural Louisiana, Walker was placed in the care of an older sister after her parents died when she was a child. Freeman takes care to acknowledge and fill in gaps in the historical record surrounding the life of Black people during early Reconstruction. The author follows Walker as she, her sister, and brother-in-law move to Mississippi to flee nearby lynchings and find work; it is here, as Freeman narrates, that Walker becomes a washerwoman. Freeman excels at writing an accessible narrative of time and place, continuing as Walker gets married, has a daughter, and becomes a widow in a short span of time. From there, she moves to St. Louis, getting involved in local church communities, marrying Charles Walker, and ultimately building a legacy by creating a hair care empire specific to the needs of Black women. Through it all, Freeman shows the challenges Black women faced in obtaining education and pursing business ventures.
VERDICT A tremendous biography and a great study of philanthropy that will have strong YA crossover appeal.

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