Atlanta salon-turned-museum houses hidden civil rights artifacts

What began as a beauty shop once owned by Madame C.J. Walker is now a museum highlighting Black history in Atlanta.

Madam C.J. Walker museum, Madam CJ Walker museum Atlanta, Atlanta Black history museum, Who was Madam CJ Walker?
Madam C.J. Walker, the first self-made U.S. woman millionaire. (Public Domain photo)

Hair salons and beauty shops have long been cherished spaces in the Black community, each filled with a subtle dose of nostalgia often tied to childhood memories. Continuing that cultural tradition, an Atlanta hairstylist is highlighting the history of a once-abandoned beauty shop previously owned by Madam C.J. Walker. 

Nearly 30 years ago, while exploring Sweet Auburn, a historically Black Atlanta neighborhood, Ricci de Forest stumbled upon a retail space with the words “Mme. C. J. Walker’s Beauty Shoppe” on its window. Years later, he acquired the space, discovering an array of original beauty tools associated with Madam C.J. Walker. Inspired, he was compelled to curate a space honoring the shop’s history in the region —The Madame C.J. Walker Museum

“Sarah Breedlove Walker’s legacy lives on in her inspiring example of ambition, perseverance, marketing and branding acumen, and philanthropy,” reads the museum’s website, distinguishing the location from the Madam Walker Legacy Center in Indiana. “The Madame C.J. Walker Museum in Atlanta pays homage to that legacy and is, along with a salon in Indianapolis, one of the only actual Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Shoppes that still exists to preserve and protect that history.”  

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Born Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a trailblazer in the Black beauty industry, ultimately becoming the first documented self-made Black female millionaire in the United States. 

“There are so many dimensions to her,” Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, previously told theGrio. “We can talk about her as an entrepreneur, as a person who employed thousands of African-American women, who helped them become economically independent, but also as a philanthropist and a patron of the arts and a political activist who was working for social justice.

Two years after launching the museum honoring the Black female entrepreneur, de Forest discovered a new piece of history on its grounds. Above the shop-turned-museum was the location of the first Black radio station, WERD

“1949 to 1968, [WERD is] the station Dr. Martin Luther King used,” de Forest said, per Atlanta News First. “No white station would let a Negro come on and say where to boycott or coordinate logistics for the Civil Rights Movement, so WERD is crucial.”

Upon learning this news, de Forest added musical artifacts to the space, including vinyl records played on the station, to honor some of the artists who would have been played or interviewed by WERD. 

For more details on how to visit and experience these Black historical artifacts, visit

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