For many years I was taught that Madam C.J . Walker was the creator of beauty products for blacks including the creation of the ever popular straightening comb and that she was the first black millionaire. Well you’re never too old to learn especially about Black History. Earhustle411 family meet Annie Turnbo Pope Malone:
On August 9, 1869 Annie Minerva Turnbo was born in Metropolis, Illinois to parents Isabella Cook and Robert Turnbo. She was the 10th of 11 children and her parents were escaped slaves from Kentucky. After traveling down the Ohio River, the family found refuge and set up a base foundation in Illinois. Her father was an indigent farmer who joined the Union Army during the Civil War. Her family lived on a farm and Annie attended public school until her parents died. Orphaned at a young age Annie moved to Peoria, Illinois to be raised by an older sister. In Peoria she attended high school & took a great interest in chemistry. Unfortunately Annie was frequently sick and was forced to withdraw from classes before her high school graduation. Annie turned to hairdressing as her only viable skill. She enjoyed fashioning her own hair as well as her sister’s hair. Annie became aware of differences in hair texture and sought a way to straighten hair. With her own knowledge of chemistry and the influence of her aunt who was an herbal doctor Annie developed a chemical which could be used to straighten hair. It would not cause any damage to the scalp or the hair itself. In 1897-98 she had developed a straightening solution which would allow her to enter the hair care industry.
Then the family moved to from Peoria, IL to Lovejoy, IL where Annie began developing her skills in fashioning hair care and beauty products. Annie knew that she wanted to become a “beauty care specialist.” By 1889 she had developed her own shampoo and scalp treatment to grow hair. She literally drove around in a buggy, making speeches to demonstrate and promote her new products. She was all of 20 years old. As her business thrived Annie ventured into a new market territory. In 1902 she moved from Lovejoy, IL to St. Louis, MO in order to expand her business. At the time, St. Louis was home to the 4th largest black population in the country. It was here that Annie hired and trained three assistants. Black women who sold her products door-to-door and gave free demonstrations. Because she was African-American traditional marketing and distributions were not available to her or her assistants. So she had to use direct approach. One of her protégés was a woman named Sarah Breedlove [commonly known as Madam C. J. Walker]. In 1903 Annie Minerva Turnbo married Mr. Pope [first name unknown]. Mr. Pope had a tendency to try to exert control and interfere with her business. Annie divorced Mr. Pope in 1904 but continued using the surname “Pope”.
In 1905 Annie opened a booth at the St. Louis World’s Fair where her products were overwhelmingly received. This gave her the confidence to expand her marketing and distributing efforts nationally. With her direct approach, demonstrations and free scalp treatments Annie was able to hold press conferences in due time. She also advertised in Black Newspapers. Annie traveled throughout the south and despite racial hostility and violence she continued to pursue her goals. She hired and trained women wherever she went to serve as local sales agents [in an early version of network marketing]. They in turn recruited other women. By the end of the decade Annie had a national distribution network. Annie was able to move to a well to do, upscale area of St. Louis called “The Ville.” She and her business blended in comfortably with all of the other diverse entrepreneurs. The area was 8% black. In ten years it jumped to 86% black and whites began to move out of “The Ville” area of St. Louis. Annie was the most famous resident of “The Ville” and she led the way in establishing black institutions.
In 1906 the name that Annie trademarked for her business was “Poro”. This was a West African word for an organization dedicated to disciplining and enhancing the body spiritually and physically. She had the “Poro” products for her hair care and beauty products. The “Poro” system for her merchandising, distributing and marketing systems. Built her own million dollar building named “The Poro Building” and established the Poro Colleges of Beauty Culture to teach and train students.
Her goal was to a network to spread the “Poro” system. She committed her efforts to the black community and to black women in particular. Annie also taught positive self-image and deportment classes as a way to increase social standing and upward mobility in the community. The Poro building served as a meeting place for St. Louis blacks since they were often denied access to other venues. Here Annie housed her business office, her product manufacturing operation, classrooms, barbershops, hairdressing salons, laboratories and a community center. The building also provided a meeting place for civic, religious and social functions. It also housed an auditorium, dining facilities, a theater, a gymnasium, a chapel and a roof garden. Local and national organizations would often use the complex for business functions and meetings[GO HEAD GIRL, THAT’S ALL YOU].
The Poro Building was located in the middle of “The Ville”. At a time when few economic opportunities were available to blacks in general, the Poro brand offered them a chance at economic independence. In 1914 Annie Minerva Turnbo Pope married school principal Aaron Eugene Malone. She made him President and Chief Manager of the company. The couple did more than just manufacture beauty products. They provided a model of lifestyle improvement for African-Americans regardless of their society standing. It is believed that Madame C.J. Walker [who was one of Annie’s protegés] was one of Annie’s assistants and that Annie may have given Ms. Walker her start in the beauty and hair care business. As Annie’s fortunes grew so did her uplift of others and her philanthropy. She contributed generously to the St. Louis Colored Orphanage and the St. James A.M.E. Church. She lobbied to have streets in “The Ville” paved. In 1922 the orphanage was relocated to “The Ville” and was renamed Annie Malone Children’s Home.
By 1926 the Poro College System had employed 175 people with outlets in North America, South America, Africa and The Philippines. Employees totaling 75,000 women. Annie’s wealth was estimated at $14 million dollars [in 1926, mind you]. Yet she did not live lavishly. She gave much of her fortune to help other African Americans. She donated large sums to countless charities. At one time it was believed that she was supporting 2 full time students in every black land grant college in the United States. She donated to Howard University Medical School and to Tuskegee Institute. Unfortunately her generosity distracted from the day-to-day operations. She depended solely on others to run things, including her husband and because of mismanagement, her business empire began to crumble. Annie and her husband Aaron became embroiled in a 6 year legal battle over the control of the business. He filed for divorce in 1927 and demanded HALF of the business. In the end Annie was able to keep her business and garnered a settlement of over $200,000 dollars. In 1930 she moved the business from St. Louis, MO to Chicago, IL to a location that became known as “The Poro Block”. But she was never able to regain the financial and business footing that she had in St. Louis. A multitude of lawsuits in 1937 and debts to the gov’t for unpaid real estate and excise taxes weighed her down. She was forced to sell the St. Louis property and by 1943 she owed the gov’t $100,000 dollars. In 1951 the debt was so overwhelming that the gov’t took control of Poro and sold most of it for taxes.
On May 10, 1957 Annie Malone suffered a stroke and passed away at Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. She never cired any children with either of her husbands. Her estate, valued at $100,000 went to her nieces & nephews. She was the first black millionaire even BEFORE Madame C.J. Walker.