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Madame C.J. Walker’s business empire is focus of symposium, inaugural Walker/Douglass lecture



INDIANAPOLIS — A top American scholar in the field of black business history is the keynote speaker for an upcoming Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis symposium on the life of Madame C.J. Walker, best known as the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S.  

The Africana Studies Program and the Frederick Douglass Papers, units in the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI,  will co-host “The Life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker: The Historical Development of a Business Empire,” from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, at The Jewel Center, 3333 N. Illinois St.

The symposium, designed for anyone interested in Madame Walker’s life, will inaugurate the Madame C.J. Walker/Frederick Douglass Annual Lecture series, named after Walker and Douglass, the African American abolitionist leader and social reformer.

“Madame Walker’s legacy in Indianapolis and beyond is clearly well worth celebrating and commemorating, so we are very happy to have this inaugural symposium,” said William Blomquist, dean of the IU School of Liberal Arts. “The annual lecture series we are launching will also honor the importance and influence of Frederick Douglass, who visited and spoke in Indianapolis on a number of occasions and whose papers have been and are being edited for publication here at IUPUI in our Institute for American Thought. The series is an excellent idea for recognizing both of these American legends.”

Juliet E.K. Walker, distinguished professor of history and the founding executive director of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Texas at Austin, will deliver the keynote speech at the symposium. Walker is the author of “The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship” and “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer of the Antebellum Frontier.”

The keynote address, “African American Businesses in the Arc of History: Culture, Innovation and Business Success,” will take place at noon during the symposium luncheon.

“Africana Studies is absolutely delighted to partner with the Frederick Douglass Papers to create and inaugurate the Madame C.J. Walker/Frederick Douglass Annual Lecture series as a tribute and permanent celebration of the genius, drive and seminal accomplishments of two global icons who greatly impacted the world around them in the economic and political arenas,” said Bessie House-Soremekun, director of the Africana Studies Program at IUPUI.  ”We look forward to highlighting the entrepreneurial accomplishments and legacy of Madame C.J. Walker.”

House-Soremekun — an internationally recognized scholar, advocate and expert on black business development — will present an afternoon symposium workshop titled “Lessons Learned from History: The 10 Personality Characteristics of African American Entrepreneurs and How to Achieve Them.” House-Soremekun is also the founding executive director of the Center for Global Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development in the School of Liberal Arts.

Other symposium speakers include Darryl Thomas, associate professor of African American Studies, Penn State University; Leon Bates, an IUPUI alumnus with degrees in history and Africana studies; and Jihad Taylor, an IUPUI undergraduate student focusing on entrepreneurship and economic development.

Registration will take place from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. A continental breakfast will be served. Opening remarks begin at 9:15 a.m. with Karen Dace, IUPUI vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion; and John Kaufman-McKivigan, the Mary O’Brien Gibson Professor of United States History and editor of The Frederick Douglass Papers. The first panel discussion begins at 9:30 a.m. on the theme of “The Life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker” and is moderated by Kaufman-McKivigan. The research workshop begins at 2 p.m.

In addition to the African Studies Program and the Frederick Douglass Papers, conference sponsors include the IUPUI Center for Global Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development, also a unit of the IU School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI; Indiana Humanities; and The African American Restoration Project of Indianapolis.

The event is free and open to the public, but advance tickets are required.

For more information or to request tickets, contact Clifton Morlan at 317-274-8662 or