Madam CJ Walker’s Gospel of Giving

Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow

Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving tells the story of the origins and evolution of one woman’s generosity, but it was (and is) not her story alone. It is also the story of a people and how their generosity helped them navigate and ultimately overcome powerful and externally imposed constraints. This book  provides a window into the evolution of black women’s philanthropy during the critical turn-of-the-century period, which sets the stage for the coming civil-rights movement and provides the historical grounding for giving by African Americans today.

Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving and Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow presents the first comprehensive story of Walker’s philanthropic giving arguing that she was a significant philanthropist who challenged Jim Crow and serves as a foremother of African American philanthropy today.

Born Sarah Breedlove (1867-1919) to formerly enslaved parents on a cotton plantation during Reconstruction, Madam C. J. Walker became a beauty culture entrepreneur known as America’s “first self-made female millionaire.”

A great African American and American philanthropist who practiced a distinctive racialised and gendered approach to giving that relieved immediate felt-needs in her community and thwarted the systemic oppression of the Jim Crow system in America, Walker’s “embodied” philosophy of philanthropy as a “gospel of giving” started in her twenties when she was a poor, suffering migrant in St. Louis, and expanded as she gradually acquired wealth and other resources over time. 

Ultimately, Walker worked to give to black people—particularly black women—some of what Jim Crow had taken away from them. In the process, she became a significant American philanthropist and a foremother of black philanthropy today.

About the author

Tyrone McKinley Freeman, kneeling, smiles with pleasure as he holds up a copy of his book in front of bookshelves in a bookshop in Princeton, New Jersey. Photo: Tyrone McKinley Freeman
Tyrone McKinley Freeman

Tyrone McKinley Freeman is an award-winning scholar and teacher who serves as Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies and Director of Undergraduate Programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. His research focuses on the history of African American philanthropy, philanthropy in communities of colour, the history of American philanthropy, and philanthropy and fundraising in higher education. 

The author finds his book in a bookshop in Princeton NJ


“When my book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, was published almost two decades ago, I hoped there would be other scholars who would expand on what I had written. I intentionally included voluminous endnotes with citations and primary sources as breadcrumbs for those who wished to learn more and who had the curiosity to dig more deeply. Freeman has exceeded my expectation by exploring new dimensions of Walker as a philanthropist and as an educator. His work opens the doors for a more inclusive and more meaningful analysis so that black philanthropy is a feature rather than a footnote of American philanthropy.”

A’Lelia Bundles
Award-winning journalist, news producer, and Madam C. J. Walker’s great-great granddaughter

Author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker

“This is no simple story of Madam Walker’s charitable giving. Instead, by spanning the course of Walker’s remarkable life from the daughter of enslaved parents to beauty culture mogul, Tyrone McKinley Freeman’s brilliant and impeccably researched book demonstrates that wealth did not drive Walker to give, but that she was the embodiment of a much longer, though often hidden, tradition of black philanthropy. This book will forever change the way we understand Walker’s importance and provides a much needed context for contemporary calls for economic justice.”

Tiffany Gill, author of Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry


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

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