Erica L. Ball is a professor of History and Black Studies at Occidental College. Ball is the author of To Live an Antislavery Life: Personal Politics and the Antebellum Black Middle Class (2012). She is co-editor, with Kellie Carter Jackson, of Reconsidering Roots: Race, Politics, and Memory (2017) and co-editor, with Tatiana Seijas and Terri L. Snyder, of As If She Were Free: A Collective Biography of Women and Emancipations in the Americas (2020).
. . . a concise and revealing biography of hair- and skin-care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker (1867–1919) . . . Ball persuasively links Walker’s self-reinvention as a sophisticated entrepreneur to the transformation of formerly agrarian Black Southerners into a style-conscious and politically active urban Black working class. This brisk and informative account serves as a worthy introduction to a trailblazing businesswoman and social justice advocate.
Erica Ball has applied the keen eye of a historian through her meticulous research and the ability to extract what is hidden between the lines in archival records about Madam C.J. Walker's amazing life. Readers will understand how Sarah Breedlove, later Walker, wielded transformation as a tool personally, professionally, and politically. Walker's physical appearance, institution building, and strategic philanthropy allowed her to transform the lives of ordinary black folk domestically and abroad. In her short life, Madam C.J. Walker served as a flesh and blood exemplar of what was possible by centering Black women and ultimately, a Black nation.
Erica Ball has written the most nuanced interpretation of Madam C. J. Walker--a woman who understood the power of reinvention for public consumption and capitalist success.