Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History, there was an African American woman named Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone born in Massac County, in the city of Metropolis, Illinois who grew up to become the 1st “self made” African American millionaire and also the 1st African American female millionaire.
Born on August 9, 1877 to parents Virginia-born Robert Turnbo and Kentucky-born Isabella Turnbo, she actually grew up her young life learning from her aunt who happened to be an herb doctor of sorts. It was her aunt who taught her about specific compounds.
It was what she learned about these herbs and mixtures, as well as the short amount of schooling and love for hair, that pushed her into putting that knowledge to use when she launched her first products as an entrepreneur.
Eventually, she moved in with her older sister, continued to hone her craft until she finally launched a product called Wonderful Hair Grower in the early 1900s. During those times, it was important to have ones hair look a certain way because a specific look led to more opportunities and gained more respect.
Sales of the product took off as she started not only promoting the product by going door to door, but also using giveaways as a great way to gain clients and customers. Soon, however, she had to copyright her product because the woman known as Madam C. J. Walker “stole” her product and began to market it as her own. Walker previously worked with Annie M. Turnbo as an employee, however, became dissatisfied and left to work on her own, taking Turnbo’s product with her.
Turbo heard of what happened and began to call her products PORO along with the copyright to keep anyone else from stealing her product and ingredients again. The name PORO was a combination of her now married name – Annie Pope (she married Nelson Pope in 1903) and her sister’s married name Roberts – Pope and Roberts, Co. – PORO.
In 1907, despite her divorce from Nelson Pope and reverting back to her maiden name, the name of her products remained the same. They’d become a huge success, and by her second marriage to a man named Aaron Eugene Malone, she’d founded PORO College in 1918. She was now Mrs. Annie Turbo Malone.
PORO College was everything to many in the black community, and it was absolutely huge. It consisted of the following:
- Beauty Shops
- Manufacturing operation
- Civic and religious facilities
- Conference room
- Roof Garden
- Conference Room
- Shipping Department
- Guest Rooms
- Seamstress Shops
- Dining Hall
PORO College, located an upper class Black neighborhood, was also used to teach etiquette to many students and employed as many as 200 people. Not only that, there were franchises on four continents – North America, South America, Asia and Africa. Some of the countries included franchises in Haiti, Philippines, Canada, and Haiti. From these, over 75,000 people were employed.
Mrs. Malone handled business. Her whole goal from her business was to enhance the lives of black people and build for the betterment of Race Women. PORO College was also a way for the Black community to come in, learn and enjoy themselves due to the white community always shutting them out or back-dooring them. They didn’t have to feel less than coming into a place fully Black-owned. Also, Black women were definitely empowered as well, not just by hair, but in their overall identities.
Annie Malone’s death came on May 10, 1957 in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and she was buried in Alsip, Illinois at Burr Oak Cemetery. She died of a stroke, and she had no children as heirs. She left her money to her nieces and nephews.
At the time of her death, she’d already lost much money through her divorce from Aaron Malone in a settlement and other monetary factors, so much that she’d almost lost PORO College. Her estate was valued at $100,000 at her death.
It seems that by what is on record, Madam C.J. Walker happened to become a noted millionaire some years before Annie Malone did – by some three or four years. However, one could arguably say that it was Annie Malone who was actually the 1st self made African American millionaire because if it were not for Malone’s product, Madam C.J. Walker may not have reached the millionaire status. Therefore, Madam C.J. Walker is not actually the first “self-made” millionaire because the product she passed as her own wasn’t actually hers originally. It was Malone made.
Annie Malone’s products were so good, however, that it ended up benefiting not just the black community in substantial ways, but in that same community, benefited Walker as well.
Ancestry.com. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 17 September 2020), memorial page for Annie Minerva Turnbo Malone (9 Aug 1877–10 May 1957), Find a Grave Memorial no. 51090577, citing Burr Oak Cemetery, Alsip, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by John Whitfield (contributor 47270804) .