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Madam Walker mural unveiled at airport

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An 11-foot tall and 75-foot long mural, “Entrepreneurs Awakening: The Making of a Legacy,” featuring Madam C.J. Walker was unveiled Feb. 23 at the Indianapolis International Airport.

Walker, who was the first self-made Black female millionaire, made her mark on Indiana Avenue when she relocated her beauty company to the city in 1910.

“This endeavor has been in the works for more than a year, and it took a diverse group of community partners and talented individuals to bring it to life,” said Indianapolis Airport Authority Executive Director Mario Rodriguez. “It is an incredible piece of artwork, worthy to represent the tremendous inspiration Madam Walker is to the history of American entrepreneurship and our great city.” 

When local artist Tasha Beckwith, 38, was selected to create the mural by the Indianapolis Airport Authority and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, she reflected on what Walker meant to her as a Black woman from Indianapolis.

“When I see pictures of her in textbooks with her friends and in her Ford Model T, I just thought … what a boss,” Beckwith said. “I wanted Hoosiers to see that she wasn’t afraid to take risks, and that it doesn’t matter where you start in life, it’s where you end.”

Born Sarah Breedlove in the Louisiana Delta, Walker worked her way from laundress to a millionaire business owner and employed thousands of women in her Indianapolis shop and around the country.

“Madam Walker carved out opportunities not just for herself, but she shared them with others,” Vop Osili, president of the city-county council, said at the unveiling ceremony. “That is her real legacy. She beat the odds. But what we really need to be asking is why were the odds so long in the first place? We honor Madam Walker by creating a community that embraces and supports more Madam Walkers.”

The mural, which consists of seven panels in the airport’s Civic Plaza, is part of the city’s Bicentennial Community Project and was endorsed by the Bicentennial Commission in October 2020. Beckwith was chosen out of hundreds of candidates nationwide to work with the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Madam Walker Legacy Center.

“The restoration of the Madam Walker Legacy Center, and the partnerships created to ensure its sustainability, demonstrate this community’s dedication to preserving and honoring the legacy of our most influential leaders,” Madam Walker Legacy Center Board Chairperson Joyce Rogers said in a press release. “This mural prominently displays our namesake for all to learn from and enjoy. It truly takes a village, and we are thankful to our partners for uplifting a rising star in our local arts community and aligning her with the empowering and inspirational legacy of Madam C.J. Walker.”

At the unveiling ceremony, Mayor Joe Hogsett said Walker is a constant reminder of the importance of diversity.

“Madam C.J. Walker proved something valuable that we can still learn from,” Hogsett said. “That Black-owned businesses catering to the needs of Black residents, more diversity in the workforce and giving back to the community can turn a huge profit. … The real miracle of her life was the legacy she left in our city.”

Rodriguez estimates roughly 10 million people will see the mural each year.

“I just hope I did her justice,” Beckwith said. “It’s mind-blowing to me that a Black woman in her day could have the kind of success she had.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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