Sarah Breedlove created specialized hair products for African American hair and was one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire in the early 1900s.
Breedlove, also known as Madam C.J. Walker, was featured because of her accomplishments during a presentation by Dr. Corye Beene, professor of history, on Feb. 22 at the Library on the South Plains College in Levelland.
In 1976, Black History Month became a national observance under President Gerald Ford, and the idea came from Dr. Carter G. Woodson.
Dr. Woodson was the son of former slaves. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago in 1907, before receiving his PhD from Harvard University in 1912. While he was studying American History in college, he noticed there was no information being taught to students on the topic of Black history in the textbooks. His goal was to try to expose Americans to what African Americans have done for the United States.
Black History Month is celebrated in February because Feb. 12 is President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and Feb. 14 is the accepted birthday of Frederick Douglass. It is also celebrated for W.E.B. Du Bois, one of the co-founders of the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), who was born on Feb. 23. In February of 1870, the 15th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, which granted African American men the right to vote.
This year, the Library on the Levelland campus held its first Black History Month event. It was the second year they put up a display for students and the community to see.
“This is the second year that I have been here to do a Black History Month display,” says Jessica Miesner, the public services librarian. “When I was thinking about doing another one, I was not sure if we were going to be able to get it done. But then I heard that Professor Corye Beene had a talk about Madam C.J. Walker.”
Christina Bearden-White, the assistant professor of history, reached out to Miesner, telling her about Professor Beene’s talk. From there, it became a focal point for the Library’s first Black History Month Event.
“Jim Crow was a terrible time in history, but African Americans still did things of significance,” said Dr. Beene. “During that time, they didn’t say ‘I am just the victim,’ or ‘The things happening around me are out of my control.’ But instead they made do with what they had and persevered, and that is what Madam C.J. Walker did.”
Dr. Beene explained that because of Walker’s hard work of leading a company and training thousands of sales agents, she was able to give other women the opportunity to support themselves during one of the hardest times in American history.
“Madam C.J. Walker was living the real American dream,” said Dr. Beene. “She started off very poor, and she had a problem and tried to solve it. Her problem was her hair started falling out, and she wanted to help other women with the same problem look and feel better about themselves.”
During the talk, Dr. Beene discussed how Walker moved several times throughout her life to keep her business alive. Walker was also a risk taker, like many successful entrepreneurs today take risks to help their businesses grow. Lastly, Dr. Beene talked about how Walker was a marketing genius of her time and the tactics she used to become popular in the advertising business.
“For the event, we had 60 people turn out,” said Miesner. “I was expecting close to 30. Professor Beene said her students would be coming for extra credit, but we had a lot of professors and students show up to the event.”
Miesner stated that they would like to host another Black History Month Event next year, especially now that she knows there is such a high demand for the event and saw the positive outcomes.
“We were just overwhelmed with how many people had come to the event,” said Miesner. “It was wonderful. For a Friday morning, it was a very active day and a lot of people stayed after to do the activities we had set out. It was exciting for us.”
In addition to the talk by Dr. Beene, there were Black History Trivia Cards on display for students to use, along with coloring pages for students to use after the talk was finished.
For those who were unable to attend the event, the live stream can be viewed at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/spcadmin/