One of my earliest memories of my great-great-grandmother’s existence is seeing her monogram on the silverware we used everyday. “CJW” for “C. J. Walker,” the name Sarah Breedlove McWilliams adopted after marrying her third husband, Charles Joseph Walker.
I grew up in Indianapolis in a home surrounded by items that had belonged to Madam Walker–the early twentieth century hair care entrepreneur and philanthropist–and her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, who was to become an icon of the Harlem Renaissance. And ofcourse with a name like “A’Lelia,” there was an obvious connection since both my mother and I are named for Madam Walker’s daughter.
The china that we used on special occasions had been purchased by Madam Walker. The Chickering baby grand piano on which I learned to read music, had been in A’Lelia Walker’s 136th Street Harlem townhouse and Edgecombe Avenue pied-a-terre. And, yet, as a child I was never made to feel as if Madam Walker were the center of my universe or that I had any obligation to carry on or live up to a legacy. (more…)