Re-posted story on Annie Malone’s fascinating life in Chicago crashes Crusader website.
Crusader Staff Report
They’re both gone, but the rivalry between hair care and beauty products pioneers Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Malone continues.
Both became self-made Black female millionaires, but which one achieved it first? Their rivalry is again in the national spotlight with the popular series “Self-Made” on Netflix, where Annie Malone is the fictional Addie Munroe.
The series, produced by NBA star LeBron James and Academy Award and Golden Globe winning actress Octavia Spencer, has drawn criticism for many inaccuracies and its portrayal of Malone as a ruthless businesswoman who antagonizes Walker as the two struggle to build their respective hair products empires in a male dominated, misogynistic society.
This week, the Crusader website crashed several times as the Crusader’s republished 2018 story generated nearly 100,000 hits in three days.
The story told of Malone’s rise and fall as a pioneering businesswoman who in later years operated her empire from four grand mansions on Chicago’s Martin Luther King Dr.
Her beauty school would eventually expand to other cities with a workforce totaling 75,000 female beauty agents.
Malone used the straightening comb before her rival Walker refined it with wider teeth to produce straighter hair. Malone was the lesser known pioneer, whose hair growth formula product Walker admitted to copying in the Netflix series, which chronicles Walker as a student of Malone’s in St. Louis before she established her own empire, that was eventually relocated to Indianapolis.
The Crusader story provides details and insight into what sparked Malone’s rivalry with Walker. Malone named her product the “Great Wonderful Hair Grower.” Walker named her product “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.”
The Crusader story also chronicles Malone’s years in Chicago, where she moved in 1930, after making an estimated $14 million ($200 million by today’s standards) in the 1920s.
She was welcomed to the city with a lavish reception given by Chicago Defender founder Robert S. Abbott. Her hair care empire and Poro Beauty College were housed in four gothic mansions that took up an entire city block that is now the home of the Chicago Defender and the Irvin C. Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville.
Walker died in 1919, but her immense wealth allowed her empire to thrive, with agents across the country, including Chicago, where her executives placed full page advertisements in the Chicago Defender and rode on elaborate floats in the newspaper’s iconic Bud Billiken Parade.
In the Netflix series, Walker’s mansion, Ville Lewaro in Irvington, New York is different from the real one; it is smaller and has a round front porch with 20 foot roman columns.
On King Drive, a branch of her beauty school competed with Malone’s Poro Beauty college. While Walker’s full page ads in the Chicago Defender were grand, many of Malone’s quarter page advertisements in the same newspaper were much smaller and simpler.
Malone also owned several one-man airplanes that she would fly with America’s first Black aviator Bessie Coleman, who lived up the street on King Drive.
Malone eventually lost her hair care empire to unscrupulous businessmen, legal battles, lawsuits and the IRS. She died in 1957 at the predominately Black Provident Hospital after suffering a stroke. She is buried in a modest grave at Burr Oak Cemetery.
By the time of her death, Malone’s Poro Beauty College operated in some 30 cities. The college’s original building and the four mansions on King Drive in Chicago were eventually demolished.
For more than 109 years St. Louis, in May, has hosted the annual Annie Malone parade, the second largest Black parade after the Bud Billiken. Annie Malone’s mansion in St. Louis, which she built in 1922, still stands as the Annie Malone Children and Family Center. At one time it served as an orphanage for Black children, shunned by white families.