Black Rose: The Magnificent Story of Madam C. J. Walker, America's First Black Female Millionaireby Tananarive Due
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 beauty 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 Haley's work to an inspiring completion.
Blending documented history, vivid dialogue, and a sweeping fictionalized narrative, Tananarive Due paints a vivid portrait of this passionate and tenacious pioneer and the unforgettable era in which she lived.
The New York Times Book Review
- Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
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.
Meet the Author
Tananarive Due is a former features writer and columnist for the Miami Herald. She has written two highly acclaimed novels: The Between and My Soul to Keep. Ms. Due makes her home in Longview, Washington.
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