A woman builds a business empire and then goes on to give away millions of dollars to charity. It’s not an unusual story, at least not today — but if the woman was an African-American during the Jim Crow era?
Madam C.J. Walker is considered America’s first self-made, female millionaire. We’ll learn more about her in today’s episode from Tyrone McKinley Freeman, the author of Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow.
Freeman is an associate professor of philanthropic studies and director of undergraduate programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. He’s also among nine winners of the 2022 Dan David Prize, which recognizes “outstanding scholarship that illuminates the past and seeks to anchor public discourse in a deeper understanding of history.”
Established in 2001 by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Dan David, the prize is endowed by the Dan David Foundation and headquartered at Tel Aviv University. Winners will be honored at a ceremony in May. Each winner will receive $300,000 to recognize their achievements to date and support future work.
In this episode, Freeman provides some history and perspective on African-American charitable giving and practices, how they shape today’s giving, and what fundraisers and charity executives can learn from that.
“I grew up in the Black church, which is a very strong and historically important philanthropic institution, it was all around me,” Freeman said. “I grew up in it but that word philanthropy wasn’t used. It was just something that people were doing what they thought they should do, what they felt like they were called to do but they didn’t think of themselves as philanthropists but this was the community that taught me about giving and generosity,” he said.
“When I became a professional fundraiser and I was trying to look at the field and see how it was engaging this community and other diverse communities, and really wasn’t finding much, or wasn’t finding much of an understanding or a connection to it, and yet it produced me so I knew it was real, I knew it existed,” Freeman said.
He also discusses MacKenzie Scott’s giving and from a historical perspective when it comes to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Freeman shares the history of Madam C.J. Walker and where her cosmetics empire stands today. “Being Black billionaires is new but giving is not,” he said. The book “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.”