Black Wealth, Racism and the Legacy of the Legendary Madam C. J. Walker

Author: DeNeen L. Brown

Published: 09/01/16, The Washington Post

The great-great granddaughter of the country’s first black female millionaire grew up with the remnants of Walker’s wealth.

She remembers the smells of the hair pomades in the factory, where women stirred ointment by hand in great, black vats.

She remembers her mother taking her to Madam C.J. Walker’s beauty school in Indianapolis in the 1960s to have her hair styled in an Afro. She remembers growing up with remnants of the black wealth created by Walker, who built an empire in the early 1900s selling hair scalp ointments and whose accomplishments will be on display at the Smithsonian’s new African American Museum of History and Culture, which opens Sept. 24.

A’Lelia Bundles, 64, of Washington, is a descendant of Madam C.J. Walker, who was the first black female millionaire in the United States. Bundles looks at two pictures of Walker sales agents during a convention at Walker’s mansion, Villa Lewaro, the home designed for her in Irvington, N.Y., by Vertner Tandy, the first black architect registered in New York. Walker moved into the Westchester County home in May 1918, a year before her death; her daughter then lived there. Today it is a national historic landmark as well as a National Trust for Historic Preservation national treasure. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The cloth napkins placed on her childhood dining-room table were stitched with Walker’s monogram; the baby grand piano on which Bundles learned to read music had belonged to Walker’s only daughter, A’Lelia Walker, a wealthy patron of the arts who threw lavish parties in her mansion in Harlem and Walker’s 20,000-square-foot estate, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington, N.Y.

Langston Hughes once called A’Lelia Walker the “Joy Goddess of the Harlem Renaissance.” [Thurgood Marshall’s interracial love: ‘I don’t care what people think. I’m marrying you.’] “The saying was that Madam Walker made the money, and her daughter, my great-grandmother, spent it,” says Bundles, 64, a former producer and Washington bureau chief for ABC News.

Nishat Kurwa’s Talk Story Conversation with A’Lelia

Author:Nishat Kurwa

Published: Dec 2018, Nishat Kurwa

Finally, a major film star has been attached to a series about Madame CJ Walker, the famed black hair care entrepreneur and activist born to enslaved parents and siblings. I was thrilled to hear that Octavia Spencer has signed on to play Madame Walker in a production financed by LeBron James

That news led me to A’Lelia Bundles, whose book about her great-great-grandmother, “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker,” was optioned for the series. Bundles was also a longtime news executive at NBC and ABC, and is now on the board of the National Archives Foundation.

It seems like a good time to talk about what you sought to highlight in the biography of Madame CJ Walker. As one of the earliest black female business moguls, what can today’s black women entrepreneurs take from her story?

I think some of the principles that were operative then are still operative now. She said you have to start with a great, high-quality product, and build a team, and then take things beyond just selling products to making a difference in the world.

I don’t know that this is the perfect analogy at the moment, but all the CEOs who were part of the Trump council—I think that people are used to staying in their lanes as businesspeople in many ways, even though they’re affecting policy. But Madame Walker really believed in having her sales agents band together to make a difference.

A hundred years ago this summer—actually in just a few days, August 30th and 31st in 1917— she had her first convention of her sales agents in Philadelphia. So 200 women who had been sharecroppers, and some schoolteachers, and maids, and laundresses came together in Philadelphia. At the convention, she told them, “I want you to understand that as Walker agents, your first duty is to humanity. I want others to look at us and realize that we care not just about ourselves, but about others.”

New Voices Foundation Acquires Madam Walker Estate to Create Think Tank

Author:Joi-Marie McKenzie

Published: 12/18/18, Essence

The Villa Lewaro estate will be used as a “learning institute, or think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for present and future generations,” according to New Voices Foundation’s Richelieu Dennis.

Just in time for the estate’s 100th anniversary, New Voices Foundation, which was founded by ESSENCE Ventures Chair Richelieu Dennis, has acquired the one-time home of Madam C.J. Walker, known as the first Black woman to become a self-made millionaire in the U.S. The Villa Lewaro estate will be used as a “learning institute, or think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for present and future generations,” according to Dennis.

For the last 25 years, the Villa Lewaro estate has been owned by Ambassador Harold Doley, Jr., and his wife Helena. Dennis purchased the estate with the help of his family, the Dennis family.

The 28,000-square-foot property is located in Irvington, New York, and boasts 34 rooms. Walker lived in the estate, which in 1976 became a National Historic Landmark, from 1918 to 1919. Named after her daughter, A’Lelia Walker Robinson, the home was the first to be owned by a person of color in Irvington, and welcomed historic guests such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Weldon Johnson.

Madam Walker’s Home Will Be Hub for WOC Entrepreneurs

Author:Sameer Rao

Published: 12/20/18, Colorlines

New Voices Foundation aims to carry the late beauty mogul’s property and passion for women’s entrepreneurship into the future.

Hair care tycoon Madam C.J. Walker, the United States’ first self-made Black woman millionaire, used her immense fortune to support Black economic and cultural achievement throughout the early 20th century. New Voices Foundation now seeks to preserve that legacy in the Irvington, New York, mansion she built nearly a century ago.

Archival photograph of a large group gathering at Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro, downloaded with permission from the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website on December 20, 2018.
Photo: A’Lelia Bundles/Madam Walker Family Archives/Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation announced yesterday (December 19) that the foundation acquired Walker’s home, dubbed Villa Lewaro. The foundation functions as the nonprofit wing of the $100 million New Voices Fund—which supports women entrepreneurs of color—and will spearhead its revitalization.