African and African Disapora Studies Department
African and African Disapora Studies Department

Juliet E. K. Walker Receives Madame C.J. Walker Lifetime Achievement Award

Wed, February 12, 2014

Dr. Juliet E. K. Walker

Dr. Juliet E. K. Walker


On December 6, Professor Juliet E. K. Walker was honored by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with the Madame C.J. Walker Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Walker, a pioneer scholar of Black Business History in America, received the first Madame C.J. Walker Lifetime Achievement Award during the inaugural Madame C.J. Walker/Frederick Douglass Annual Lecture Series.

Professor Walker, considered the foremost scholar in Black Business History in America, is the founder of the Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship and Technology at UT Austin.

She has consistently published cutting-edge research through the years that has provided the foundational elements for the development of Black Business History as a viable and respected sub field. Her development of the field of Black Business History began with the publication of her first  book, Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier [1983]. Born a slave in 1777, Free Frank purchased sixteen family members from slavery over a period of forty years from profits made from his various business enterprises. Free Frank was Professor Walker’s great great grandfather. Based on her research, the site of the town New Philadelphia, Illinois, established by Free Frank in 1836 as one of his business enterprises, is now a National  Historic Landmark, which won support from then Senator Barack Obama who wrote in a letter to the National Historic Landmarks  October 27, 2008: “I am writing in support of the nomination of the New Philadelphia Town Site for Designation as a National Historic Landmark.”  Early on, in 1990, Professor Walker’s research on Free Frank was recognized in the Congressional Record by then Congressman Richard J. Durban, as reported:

  • Mr. DURBIN. Mr. Speaker, on Saturday I will attend a ceremony honoring Free Frank McWorter whose pioneering spirit and entrepreneurship led to freedom from slavery for himself, his family, and many others he helped escape through the underground railroad.

  • His great-great-granddaughter, Prof. Juliet E.K. Walker, has worked long and hard to secure Free Frank's place in history. Her efforts have made many people more aware of an aspect of African-American history and business that is little known to most Americans.

Professor Walker’s seminal and ground-breaking book, The History of Black Business in America: Capitalism, Race, Entrepreneurship [1998], remains the first and only comprehensive study of African American businesses. This book has received numerous awards, including the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award (Honorable Mention), the Letitia Woods Brown Prize for best book, the American Association of Publishers Scholarly and Professional Division Award for Business and Management Category, and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Award for Outstanding Publication. The History of Black Business in America was also selected as a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Book in African and African American Studies.  The vol 1 publication of her The History of Black Business [2009] includes a new chapter: “They Never Had A Chance: Black Business in the Crossfires of the American Civil War, 1861-1865.” 

She received her Ph.D. in American History from the University of Chicago where she studied under the distinguished scholar John Hope Franklin and pursued postdoctoral studies under a Radcliffe Bunting Institute’s Berkshire Fellowship and the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University. She has received numerous prestigious fellowships, grants, and honors through the years including grants from the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH], the Rockefeller Foundation, the American Historical Association, Princeton University's Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and a Senior Fulbright Fellowship for research and teaching at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.  During the 2012-2013 academic year, she served as the Distinguished Visiting Professor of History at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

In 2010, Professor Walker was awarded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Carter G. Woodson Scholars Medallion. She has published more than 90 articles, essays, and encyclopedia entries.  Her article, "Racism, Slavery, and Free Enterprise: Black Entrepreneurship in the United States before the Civil War," received the Harvard University Business School's Newcomen Prize for Best Article, as well as the Letitia Woods Brown Publication Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians.
At the University of Texas at Austin, she has been the recipient of  the Walter Prescott Web Chair and the IC2 Institute’s Jack Wrather Centennial Fellowship and the Gerhard J. Fonken Endowed Research Fellow. Dr. Walker teaches upper divisions courses including: “African American History to 1860,” “African American History Since 1860,”  “Texas Black History from Slavery to Freedom,” “History of Black Business: Commodification of Black Culture: Superstar Sports and Hip Hop Entrepreneurs,” and graduate courses, “Twentieth Century Black Intellectuals and Activists,”   “Antebellum Slavery,” “Age of Jim Crow,”  “Political Economy of Black America,” and  “Research in African American History:  Capitalism, Slavery, Race, Class and State.”

She is currently working on several additional books, one of which is titled, "Oprah Winfrey: An American Entrepreneur," will provide a critical analysis of the very first African American female billionaire in the United States.  Included among her articles on black women in business are: "Free Black Women Enterprises and Entrepreneurship: The Intersection of Business, Race, Sex, Color and Gender in the Antebellum South,”  ”War, Women, Song: The Tectonics of Black Entrepreneurship and Business  Enterprise, 1939-2000,” and "Oprah Winfrey, The Tycoon: Contextualizing the Economics of Race, Class, Gender in Black Business History in Post-Civil Rights America." Dr. Walker is also the Editor of The Encyclopedia of African American Business History.

“It is entirely befitting for Professor Walker to receive this prestigious award … for the first woman to establish a major field in black entrepreneurship to (receive the inaugural) award named after the first female self-made millionaire in the United States,” said Dr. Bessie House-Soremekun, Director of Africana Studies and Dr. John Kaufman-McKivigan, Editor of the Frederick Douglass Papers, at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

The theme for this year’s event was “The Life and Times of Madame C.J. Walker: The Historical Development of a Business Empire.” Madam Walker was a self-made African American millionaire, having made a fortune from beauty and hair-care businesses before her death in 1919. 

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