Cover image for The black rose
The black rose
Due, Tananarive, 1966-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Ballantine, [2000]

Physical Description:
375 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
"The stunning new novel based on the research and writing of acclaimed author Alex Haley"--Cover.

"The dramatic story of Madam C.J. Walker, America's first black female millionaire"--Cover.
Reading Level:
950 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 6.6 27.0 45715.

Reading Counts RC High School 6.4 33 Quiz: 21743 Guided reading level: NR.
Format :


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X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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Born to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, Madam C.J. Walker rose from poverty and indignity to become America's first black female millionaire, the head of a hugely successful company, and a leading philanthropist in African American causes. Renowned author Alex Haley became fascinated by the story of this extraordinary heroine, and before his death in 1992 he embarked on the research and outline of a major novel based on her life. Now with The Black Rose, critically acclaimed writer Tananarive Due brings the work to inspiring completion. "I got my start by giving myself a start," Madam C.J. was fond of saying as she recounted her transformation from the uneducated laundress Sarah Breedlove to a woman of wealth, culture, and celebrity. Madam C.J. was nearing forty and married to a maverick Denver newspaperman when the wonder-working hair care method she discovered changed her life. Seemingly overnight, she built a marketing empire that enlisted more than twenty thousand bright young African American women to demonstrate and sell her products door-to-door. By the time she died in 1919, Madam C.J. Walker had constructed her own factory from the ground up, established a training school, and built a twenty-room mansion at Irvington on the Hudson, New York, called Villa Lawaro. A dynamic, brilliantly creative businesswoman, Madam C.J. also became a tireless activist in the fight against racial oppression and a key figure in the antilynching movement. A stalwart "race woman," she worked with black leaders like Booker T. Washington, and her legacy inspired poets like Langston Hughes. Yet she paid a steep emotional price for her worldly triumphs. Betrayed by her husband, plagued by rumors of her beloved daughter's scandalous behavior, Madam C.J. suffered the private pain and disappointment all too familiar to many successful women. In the tradition that made Alex Haley's Roots an international bestseller, Tananarive Due blends documented history, vivid dialogue, and a sweeping fictionalized narrative into a spellbinding portrait of this passionate and tenacious pioneer and the unforgettable era in which she lived.

Author Notes

Tananarive Due, a former "Miami Herald" columnist, is the author of the national bestselling "My Soul to Keep" & "The Between", which was shortlisted for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award for a first novel. She lives in Washington State with her husband.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Before his 1992 death, controversial author Alex Haley had researched and planned a novel based on the life of Madam C. J. Walker, whose line of hair-care products made her the first black female millionaire in the U.S. Journalist and fiction writer Due has now written the novel Haley wanted to write, utilizing Haley's preparation. It is an involving story of the meteoric rise of a poverty-stricken woman, born to former slaves in Louisiana. By her proverbial boot straps, the girl born Sarah Breedlove struggles for an education. Despite early widowhood, she is able to further herself with her own laundry business. Persistent scalp problems lead to the discovery of a system for hair care for black women, and her fortune is made. But she has to tend to the private side of her life, too, and there are setbacks in following that path. In fact, she realizes late in life that "being a woman was the hardest thing of all." Alex Haley was considered a good storyteller by some and a plagiarist by others; either way, his connection with this novel will stir interest. It offers a fictional but nonetheless educational airing of an important life.--Brad Hooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

An entrepreneur and an innovator in African-American hair care became the first black female millionaire in America. The life of this historical figure, born Sarah Breedlove, was researched heavily by Alex Haley and proves to be a rich subject for Due, who relied on interviews, letters and other data compiled by the late author of Roots. The strong-willed heroine was born in Delta, La., in the 1860s to sharecropper parents, and was orphaned at age seven. Sarah and her older sister, Lou, find employment as washerwomen for a spirited black woman who runs a laundry business in Vicksburg, Miss. At 14, Sarah marries a good man, but when he is brutally killed, she and her daughter, Lelia, are nearly destitute, until Sarah starts her own laundry business in St. Louis. Sarah works hard for years before stumbling upon the "miracle" ingredientÄsulfurÄthat cures her painful, itching scalp and promotes hair growth. Perfecting her increasingly popular concoction, she turns her kitchen into a production line/beauty parlor. After she marries flashy adman C.J. Walker, a nationwide ad campaign turns Madam C.J. Walker into a household name, the business funding a beauty college where women ("black roses") are trained to care for African-American hair. Walker gains entry to the black elite and extraordinary material wealth, yet the same toil that builds her business leads to personal heartbreak and cuts her life short. The author of two supernatural thrillers (My Soul to Keep; The Between), Due's leap into historical fiction is accomplished and enlivened by rich characterizations. A few flash-forward scenes necessary for the story's irony or suspense barely halt the polished pacing and keen-eared dialogue as this dramatic rags-to-riches narrative moves briskly toward a bittersweet end. Agent, John Hawkins. Sample chapter distributed through select African-American beauty salons nationwide; 5-city author tour. (June) FYI: Due's own grandmother was a graduate of the Madam C.J. Walker School of Beauty Culture. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With just a dollar and a half and a dream, a sharecropper!s daughter became America!s first black female millionaire. This fictionalized account of the rags-to-riches story of Madame C.J. Walker"based on research and an outline by Alex Haley"brings this remarkable woman to life. Born to former slaves, Sarah Breedlove was orphaned at seven, married at 14, and widowed with a young daughter at 20. Not content to stay a washerwoman (and in order to treat her own ailing scalp), she developed the potion that became Wonderful Hair Grower and redesigned a steel hot comb to straighten hair, building a homegrown enterprise into a major hair-care business. With the help of her second husband, a dandy with a flair for advertising, her personal life blossomed with her business, until his philandering and her travel brought the marriage to a dramatic end. She went on to be a renowned entrepreneur, educator, philanthropist, and activist, working for the betterment of her race and the women in it. This vivid and engrossing portrait by journalist and novelist Due (My Soul to Keep) is recommended for all public and academic libraries."Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-A fictionalized account of Madame C. J. Walker's riveting life as researched by Alex Haley prior to his death. Born Sarah Breedlove, Walker rose from an uneducated laundress to a woman of wealth. She was an ingenious and brilliant entrepreneur who created numerous hair and beauty products for women; however, she is most renowned for her invention of "the pressing comb" which allowed black women to relax their hair. Black leaders such as Booker T. Washington often sought her support both financially and as a community leader. Her legacy is reflective in many of the writings of Langston Hughes. Moreover, Walker was known as an elegant public speaker, and often commenced her speeches with the well-known one-liner, "I got my start by giving myself a start." Accordingly, the "Black Rose" (a phrase coined by Walker) believed that if an individual worked hard she could achieve her goals and much more. Wealth and notoriety came with a price, however: personal sacrifice and loss. Teen readers will love this fascinating novel.-ayo dayo, Chinn Park Regional Library, Prince William, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One DELTA, LOUISIANA SPRING 1874 The slave-kitchers couldn't get her. Not so long as she stayed hid.                  Stealthily, Sarah crouched her small frame behind the thick tangle of tall grass that pricked through the thin fabric of her dress, which was so worn at the hem that it had frayed into feathery threads that tickled her shins. "Sarah, where you at?" Sarah felt her heart leap when she heard the dreaded voice so close to her. That was the meanest, most devilish slave-kitcher of all, the one called Terrible Lou the Wicked. If Terrible Lou the Wicked caught her, Sarah knew she'd be sold west to the Indians for sure and she'd never see her family again. Sarah tried to slow her breathing so she could be quiet as a skulking cat. The brush near her stirred as Terrible Lou barreled through, searching for her. Sweat trickled into Sarah's eye, but she didn't move even to rub out the sting. "See, I done tol' Mama 'bout how you do. Ain't nobody playin' no games with you! I'ma find you, watch. And when I do, I'ma break me off a switch, an' you better not holler." A whipping! Sarah had heard Terrible Lou whipped little children half to death just for the fun of it, even babies. Sarah was more determined than ever not to be caught. If Terrible Lou found her, Sarah decided she'd jump out and wrastle her to the ground. Sarah crouched closer to the ground, ready to spring. She felt her heart going boom-boom boom-boom deep in her chest. "Ain't no slave-kitcher takin' me!" Sarah yelled out, daring Terrible Lou. "Yes, one is, too," Terrible Lou said, the voice suddenly much closer. "I'ma cut you up an' sell you in bits if you don't come an' git back to work." Sarah saw her sister Louvenia's plaited head appear right in front of her, her teeth drawn back into a snarl, and she screamed. Louvenia was too big to wrastle! Screaming again, Sarah took off running in the high grass, and she could feel her sister's heels right behind her step for step. Louvenia was laughing, and soon Sarah was laughing, too, even though it made her lungs hurt because she was running so hard. "You always playin' some game! Well, I'ma catch you, too. How come you so slow?" Louvenia said, forcing the words through her hard breaths, her legs pumping. "How come you so ugly?" Sarah taunted, and shrieked again as Louvenia's arm lunged toward her, brushing the back of her dress. Sarah barely darted free with a spurt of speed. "You gon' be pickin' rice 'til you fall an' drown in them rice fields downriver." "No, I ain't neither! You the one gon' drown," Sarah said. "You the one can't swim good." "Can, too! Better'n you." By now, Sarah was nearly gasping from the effort of running as she climbed the knoll behind their house. Louvenia lunged after her legs, and they both tumbled into the overgrown crabgrass. They swatted at each other playfully, and Sarah tried to wriggle away, but Louvenia held her firmly around her waist. "See, you caught now!" Louvenia said breathlessly. "I'ma sell you for a half dollar." "A half dollar!" Sarah said, insulted. She gave up her struggle against her older sister's tight grip. Louvenia's arms, it seemed to her, were as strong as a man's. "What you mean? Papa paid a dollar for his new boots!" Louvenia grinned wickedly. "That's right. You ain't even worth one of Papa's boots, lazy as you is." "There Papa go now. I'ma ask him what he say I'm worth," Sarah teased, and Louvenia glanced around anxiously for Papa. If Papa saw Louvenia pinning Sarah to the ground, Sarah knew he'd whip Louvenia for sure. Louvenia and Alex weren't allowed to play rough with Sarah. That was Papa's law, because she was the baby. And she'd been born two days before Christmas, Sarah liked to remind Louvenia, so she was close to baby Jesus besides. "You done it agin, Sarah. Got me playin'," Louvenia complained, satisfied that Papa was nowhere near after peering toward the dirt road and dozens of acres of cotton fields that had been planted in March and April, sprouting with plants and troublesome grass and weeds. Still, her voice was much more hushed than it had been before. "You always gittin' somebody in trouble." "I ain't tell you to chase me. An' I ain't tell you to stop workin'." "Sarah, see, you think we jus' out here playin', but then I'm the one got to answer why we ain't finish yet." Seeing Louvenia's earnest brown eyes, Sarah knew for the first time that her sister had lost the heart to pretend she was a slave-kitcher, or for any games at all. Right now, Louvenia's face looked as solemn as Mama's or Papa's when the cotton yields were poor or when their house was too cold. And Louvenia was right, Sarah knew. Just a few days before, Louvenia had been whipped when they broke one of the eggs they'd been gathering in the henhouse. It had been Lou's idea to break up the boredom of the task by tossing the eggs to each other standing farther and farther away. They broke an egg by the time they were through, and Sarah hadn't seen Mama that mad in a long time. "Girl, you ten years old, almost grown!" Mama had said, thrashing Louvenia's bottom with a thin branch from the sassafras tree near their front door. "That baby ain't s'posed to be lookin' after you! When you gon' get some head sense?" Louvenia's eyes, to Sarah, looked sad and even a little scared. Maybe she was remembering her thrashing, too. Sarah didn't want her sister to feel cross with her, because Louvenia was her only playmate. In fact, although Sarah would never want to admit it to her, Louvenia was her best friend, her most favorite person. Next to Papa and Mama, of course. Sarah squeezed Lou's hand. "Come on, I'll help. We won't play no mo' 'til we done." "We ain't gon' be done 'fore Papa and them come back." "Yeah, we will, too," Sarah said. "If we sing." That made Louvenia smile. She liked to sing, and Papa had taught them songs he learned from his pappy when he was a boy on a big plantation he said had a hundred slaves. Sarah couldn't sing as well as her sister--her voice wouldn't always do what she told it to--but singing always made work go by faster. Mama sang, too, when the womenfolk came on Saturdays to wash laundry with them on the riverbank. But Papa had the best voice of all. Papa sang when he was picking, and to Sarah his voice was as deep and pretty as the Mississippi River on a full-moon night. Papa always started singing when he was tired, and Sarah liked to watch him pick up his broad shoulders each time he took a breath before singing a new verse, as if the song was making him stronger: O me no weary yet, O me no weary yet. I have a witness in my heart, O me no weary yet. Excerpted from The Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C. J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaire by Tananarive Due All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.