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Tyrone McKinley Freeman: Madam C. J. Walker & the History of Black Philanthropy

In this episode we talk to Tyrone McKinley Freeman, Associate Professor of Philanthropic Studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, IUPUI about his book “Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy During Jim Crow” and about the history and current context of Black philanthropy. Including:

Madam C. J. Walker:

  • Who was Madam C. J. Walker, and why is she such an important figure in the history of philanthropy?
  • Was what she represented- as a role model of an independent, successful Black woman who used her position to speak out and support others- just as significant as the monetary value of her donations?

Blurred Lines

  •  Madam Walker’s story highlights the fact that Black communities have often not had the luxury of distinguishing between philanthropy, commerce and politics, as they have been forced to use all tools at their disposal to further their aims. Is this blurring of the boundaries something we could learn from today?
  • Madam C. J. Walker’s giving is distinct from many other major historical philanthropists in being grounded in traditions of mutual aid rather than charity- how did this shape her approach, and what could we learn from this today?

Civil Rights

  • How important a focus for Madam C. J. Walker’s philanthropy was civil rights?
  •  Where does she fit in the debate between accommodationists and those arguing that the goal should be equality whilst retaining a distinct Black identity?


  • Why was education such an important part of Madam Walker’s philanthropy?
  • Does her support for Black educational institutions confuse the dominant narrative that positions many of these institutions as tools for white social control?

Women’s Philanthropy

  • To what extent has philanthropy helped to equip Black women with skills and tools for wider civic engagement? Has this led to engagement with issues of women’s rights?

The Role of Philanthropoids

  • How did Freeman B. Ransom shape Madam C. J. Walker’s philanthropy? Did he merely interpret her wishes and goals, or can we only understand her philanthropy by taking into account his role too?

The History of Black Philanthropy

  • Is there a distinct field/practice of Black philanthropy?
  •  Does a proper understanding of the history of Black philanthropy require us to broaden our viewpoints and definitions about what should count as “philanthropy”?
  • Who are the other key Black philanthropists from history that we should be paying attention to?
  •  Is there an ‘archival inequality’ because a lot of philanthropy in black communities historically took place outside the boundaries of formal organisations and is thus less likely to be captured in records?

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