Many people know the name Madam C.J. Walker, but few know Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone. Turnbo Malone, born in Illinois in 1869, was the first successful hair care expert for the African American community well before Madam C.J. Walker. During Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone’s time, there were very few products available for the African American community to help solve many of the hair problems. So, in 1900 she created the Wonderful Hair Grower which claimed to make African textured hair grow. I like to call her The Black Mary Kay because she began selling her products door-to-door and eventually trained other women as “agents” who would also begin selling her products for a percentage of the sales.
Her company, called Poro (which is a Mende word meaning “devotional society”), was so successful, her products were sold in the North and South Americas and the Caribbean. Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone not only made a fortune in the hair care industry, she made sure to give back to the Black community. She regularly donated money to Black businesses, churches, schools, and community based organizations. She even helped start an orphanage in 1888 which is still in operation today. In 1917, she created the Poro College in Saint Louis, a massive complex and the first U.S. school that trained Black hairstylists. The Poro College was also a place where African Americans could come together as a community when most places were still segregated. It housed a theatre, chapel, community center, and gymnasium. Let’s pay homage to Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone during Black History Month for her commitment to African American hair and the Black community.
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