Celebrate of Black History Month February 2024

The History Of Black Hair Care Part 4 Of 10

Annie M. Turnbo Pope Malone’s contributions to the African American communities in the early 19th century had a major impact on black lives in the United States and in black communities around the world. Annie Malone was one of the richest African American women in the United States just one generation after slavery ended. She founded an extremely successful line of hair-care products and according to early historians, she was known as the original founder of the black hair care industry.

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Annie named her company PORO – PO for Pope and RO for Roberts. Although Annie’s marriage to Nelson was short-lived, she kept the last name Pope. Also, the word “poro” is a West African term that denotes a secret organization whose aim was to discipline and enhance the body in both physical and spiritual form. She applied to copyright the name Poro in 1906. She established a series of colleges across the United States to train black women on black hair and beauty culture. These college graduates became independent owners and were referred to as Poro agents. Often they would work from home, start a business, or work in a shop. One of Poro College’s famous agents was Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madame C. J. Walker. There were PORO agents in every state in the United States and in Alaska, Canada, Haiti, Cuba, the Bahamas, Central and South America, Africa, and the Philippines.


Poro College soon outgrew the Market St. location and in 1910 relocated to 3100 Pine St. to allow for more rooms and space to expand her business. It was at the Pine St. location where Annie became reacquainted with her second husband, Aaron E. Malone. Annie and Aaron were married from 1914 until 1927. Mr. and Mrs. Malone traveled the country to promote her Poro System and sell Poro products. They also attended graduation ceremonies in several states. They were in constant demand and invited to public and private affairs because of their philanthropic benevolence. She reportedly supported a pair of students at every African American land-grant college in the country; orphanages for African American children regularly received donations of $5,000, and during the 1920s alone she reportedly gave $60,000 to the St. Louis Colored Young Women’s Christian Association, the Tuskegee Institute, and Howard University Medical School. Within her company, Malone was equally magnanimous. Five-year employees received diamond rings, and punctuality and attendance were rewarded as well. Newspaper articles written about the famous couple and Poro College appeared weekly in most of the black news publications.


The sales of Poro products grew exponentially until Mrs. Malone decided it was time to build a larger facility. The location selected for the new building was 4300 St. Ferdinand, in the Ville. The state-of-the-art building was constructed in 1917 and occupied in November 1918. The building included everything necessary to produce and ship the products to consumers. In addition, there were dormitories for the students and a 100-bed hotel for guests. It was a large, lavish facility that included well-equipped classrooms, an auditorium, a restaurant, an ice cream parlor and bakery, a rooftop garden, and a theater–as well as the manufacturing facilities for Poro products. Office space housed several prominent local and national African American organizations, and the college was soon a center of activity and influence in St. Louis’s African American community; it also provided 175 jobs.


Mrs. Malone’s Poro System continued to expand, and it was estimated that at one point in the 1920s, her personal worth reached $14 million. Thousands of Poro agents were doing business throughout the United States and the Caribbean. Mrs. Malone moved out of the famed St. Louis facilities in 1930 when she opened a new headquarters in Chicago at 44th and South Parkway, at what became known as the Poro Block.


Mrs. Malone belonged to numerous philanthropic groups as well, further reflecting her dedication to improving the lives of African Americans. She was a role model. Many others followed her lead and it earned her the title of the most influential black woman in the early 1900s. Women of color were finally free to make choices in their own lives that involved staying at home to raise a family or starting a business as opposed to being relegated simply as domestic workers or laborers. However, it is unfortunate that the story of her legacy is often hidden.


The National Negro Business League, the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, and the Colored Women’s Federated Clubs of St. Louis all benefited from Malone’s energy and prominent name. The St. Louis Colored Orphans Home was eventually named after her. On May 10, 1957, Mrs. Malone died of a stroke in a Chicago hospital. Sadly, her worth had dwindled to a mere $100,000 by the time of her death. She was buried at the famous Burr Oaks cemetery in Chicago at the age of 87.


The Annie Malone Historical Society (AMHS) is a non-profit organization founded in 2013 to tell the story of Annie Malone. The AMHS has made great strides to restore and preserve Annie Malone’s history by providing a traveling museum to schools, colleges and universities, clubs, and beauty salons. Currently, AMHS has an exhibit in Terminal 1 at the St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Written by Linda Jones


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