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Bryson book on Annie Malone gains state recognition

 Annie Turnbo Malone
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture digital collections
Annie Turnbo Malone

Peorian James Agbara Bryson’s efforts to tell the story of Annie Turbo Malone, the first black female millionaire in the country, received another boost recently when Bryson’s book on his grandfather’s aunt, a woman whose success began in Peoria, received state recognition.

Bryson’s book, “The Hidden Story of Annie Turnbo Malone: The First Black Millionaire” recently earned a certificate of merit in the Best of Illinois History category from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Along with the book, Bryson’s efforts to tell the Annie Malone story include a display at the Peoria Riverfront Museum as well as a television program on WTVP-TV, Peoria’s public TV outlet.

After Annie moved to Peoria in the very early 1900s, Bryson said the girl found a home and a mentor with the Moody family in Peoria.

“What she learned from Mother Moody laid the groundwork for her business,” he said. While Malone attended Peoria High School, she never graduated due to bad health, said Bryson.

Yet what she learned--about the value of herbs and natural products--not only helped her regain her health but laid the groundwork for a successful business career, he said.

Malone dispensed hair products designed specifically for African Americans, an underserved market at the onset of the 20th century. After moving with her sister Laura to Lovejoy, an all-black community near St. Louis, “She realized there was a greater market in the St. Louis area, particularly at the time of the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904,” said Bryson.

Malone’s success in the beauty industry led her to found Poro College in St. Louis in 1918, a school that also served as a center for African Americans who, due to strict segregation laws, were unable to attend public events in the St. Louis area at the time, said Bryson.

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Steve Tarter retired from the Peoria Journal Star in 2019 after spending 20 years at the paper as both reporter and business editor.