Annie Malone

Malone Malone 2
Despite the obstacles that were meant to break a nation of people, we produced individuals to help propel us from the darkness. One such light that inspired a race of black women is one of the persons I looked most forward to profiling, Ms. Annie Malone. Many have heard of known of Madame C.J. Walker and her contribution to hair care and new ways for black women to care for their hair and skin. Yet, her inspiration was from her mentor, Ms. Malone!

When I write, it’s like the ghost of the past speaks to me, takes over this pen. None speak to me louder than Ms. Annie Minerva Turnbo-Malone.

Annie Minerva Turnbo-Malone (August 9, 1869 – May 10, 1957) was a role model in her day. Today, her strength and business mind live on in many strong black prideful woman.

In the light and positive era of the Harlem Renaissance and decades beyond the 1930’s and 40’s, a new found freedom in business shined on our race. Many took advantage and none more so than Ms. Malone. She was one of the nation’s wealthiest African Americans and one of the first (if not THE first) millionaire black women in America. Malone was an educator, entrepreneur and inventor.

Many have never heard of Malone. It’s my responsibility to preserve the cream of our past. So, let’s let Annie Malone live! She was born in Metropolis, Illinois while her father went off to fight for the Union troops in the Civil War. Her mother took the children and escaped to Kentucky. She was the 10th born of 11 children.

In Peoria, Illinois Malone attended high school and took a special interest in chemistry. She was often sick as a young lady and eventually, withdrew from school. At home, she took to doing her sisters’ hair and becoming a second mother to her older siblings. Malone began to make her own hair care products geared toward African Americans. She began to do hair in her neighborhood. At the time, black women used goose fat, heavy oils, soap or bacon grease to straighten it, damaging their scalp and hair. In the early 1900’s, she moved with some of her siblings to Lovejoy, Illinois (Now Brooklyn, IL). While experimenting, she developed her own line of hair care products. There were non-damaging hair straighteners, special oils and scalp stimulating products for African American hair. She began selling her products door to door. Malone is the mother of hair and skin care. She is the mother of whatever you’re doing with black hair today.

Black women began to turn away from the typical way they wore their hair, braided cornrows. She told every black woman, “Honey, stop using lye mixed with the potatoes to take care of your hair. It damages your scalp and hair”. Malone revolutionized hair care methods for all African Americans. She made products like shampoo for all blacks, but her best product was the formula she called “the great wonderful hair grower”. The product spread like wildfire. With her profits, she developed the Poro College and called her students Poro Agents. They were mostly women. Yes, the first black beauty school.

Malone truly believed that improving your physical appearance would gain greater self-respect and that would lead to success in other areas of life. By 1902, she moved her small business to St. Louis, Missouri, which had the fourth largest black population in America. In St. Louis, she copyrighted her Poro brand products. In 1914, she wed Aaron Eugene Malone, a school principal and former bible salesman. Her Poro College beauty school took off! It was the first educational institution in America dedicated to the study and teaching of black cosmetology. She made it a rule that her employees and students present themselves professionally and look stylish. She had classes on walking, talking and professional styles of dress.

Malone moved her headquarters back to Chicago, Illinois where in one year, she owned a whole city block with the Poro College, two business offices and a women’s shelter. She was paying $40,000 in taxes alone in 1926. She trained well over 75,000 women in Missouri, where she maintained some of her business and a home. She was the first in the city with a Rolls Royce automobile.

She trained many to become wealthy, but her two most famed students were Madam C.J. Walker and one man, Chuck Berry. Berry, the slick haired musician graduated in 1952. By this time, both Malone and Walker had vividly shown nearly every black community that hair dressing was a vital means to economic independence. Look at the black hair care industry today!

Malone was generous to a fault. While her generosity raised her stature in the community, it also contributed to the financial decline of her businesses. She left much of the day to day business to her husband. The lack of love for it and management skills eventually lead to the dismantling of an empire from 1921 to 1927. Malone and her husband were embroiled in a power struggle over control of the Poro business. Aaron Malone filed for divorce in 1927 and demanded half of the business and assets. He claimed the success was due to the contracts he brought to the company. Many black leaders and white politicians, sadly, sided with him. Mary McLeod Bethune, President of the National Association of Colored Women supported Annie and thru lawyers and prevailed in court to keep her business. They negotiated a settlement for $200,000 with Aaron Malone.

Then there was a law suit by a former student who claimed “they” invented a product and were not compensated for it. Annie knew nothing about this. Her then husband renamed the product and sold it as a Poro product in his days of management. This drove her to sell most of her business off. On May 10, 1957 she suffered a stroke and died childless in a Chicago hospital. She bequeathed her business and remaining fortune to her nieces and nephews. At the time of her death, she was worth $100,000, but at the height of her fame, it was 5 to 8 million. Due to her late life losses, her empire was significantly reduced. Madame C.J. Walker often overshadows Malone. Walker’s business remained successful and she’s more widely known and often credited with being the originator of black beauty and a cosmetic and hair movement. She is NOT! Many historians believe as do I, that Malone deserves more credit for her devotion to helping African Americans gain financial independence and social causes beyond her devotion to the improvement of hair and skin.

This leads me to dispel a misconception. Who created the “hot comb”? Malone or Walker? The answer is neither. A hairdresser named Marcel Grateau used a pressing comb on his clientele in Paris in 1872. Those in Europe were trying to emulate the hair styles of ancient Egyptian black women. Malone was the first to patent the hot comb, but didn’t believe in the process. She said it did more damage than good. Walker embraced the hot comb and made it famous, so much that it overshadowed Grateau and Malone.

You’ve heard of Oprah Winfrey and Madame C.J. Walker, but they, and all women, owe Ms. Malone a debt. She is the mother of black hair and skin care. Mary McLeod Bethune and Cathy Hughes acknowledge the legacy of Malone!

-Simply KJS
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