In 1910, Sarah and husband Charles moved to Indianapolis, Ind., where A’Lelia encouraged her mother to establish a factory head. Walker did so, purchasing a home and a factory at 640 North West Street. She and Charles divorced in 1913, but Sarah retained the name Madam C.J. Walker. After all, it was a brand now. Her name and likeness graced the packages of Madam C.J. Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower. Walker was savvy in advertising and branding, and she traveled frequently to promote her products.
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South,” she said, speaking in 1912 at an annual gathering of the National Negro Business League. “From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations. I have built my own factory on my own ground.” The following year she would attend the event as keynote speaker.
By 1917—the year of the horrific riots in East St. Louis—her company had several thousand sales agents and would claim to have trained 20,000 women in the “Walker System.” Harlem business leaders responded to the violence with a visit to the White House, brandishing a petition in support of anti- lynching legislation. Walker also served on the committee that organized the Negro Silent Protest Parade that walked through New York City streets.
“This is the greatest country under the sun,” she said to her agents, “but we must not let our love of country, our patriotic loyalty, cause us to abate one whit in our protest against wrong and injustice.