Do Big Things: History, Ancestors and Villa Lewaro

Author: A’lelia Bundles

Published: 10/22/14, Huffpost

“Do Big Things”: Madam C.J. Walker’s Great-Great-Granddaughter on History, Ancestors, and Villa Lewaro

Every time I walk through the doors of Villa Lewaro — the mansion my great-great-grandmother, Madam C. J. Walker, called her “dream of dreams” — I always take a moment to imagine the ancestors and the magic they must have felt in these rooms. From the columns of its majestic portico to the balustrades of its grand terrace, the original stucco facade sparkled with marble dust and glistening grains of white sand when the washerwoman-turned-millionaire took possession in May 1918.

The New York Times pronounced it “a place fit for a fairy princess.” Enrico Caruso, the world-famous opera tenor, was so entranced by its similarity to estates in his native Naples that he coined the name “Lewaro” in honor of A’Lelia Walker Robinson, Madam Walker’s only daughter.

She also wanted to make a statement, so it was no accident that she purchased four and a half acres in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, not far from Jay Gould’s Lyndhurst and John D. Rockefeller’s Kykuit amidst America’s wealthiest families. She directed Vertner Woodson Tandy — the architect who already had designed her opulent Harlem townhouse — to position the 34-room mansion close to the village’s main thoroughfare so it was easily visible by travelers en route from Manhattan to Albany.

Madam C.J. Walker’s Villa Lewaro: A Beacon for Women

Author: A’lelia Bundles

Published: 02/25/18, Houzz

The New York mansion of America’s first self-made female millionaire holds out the hope of success through enterprise

Legendary hair care magnate Madam C.J. Walker built her mansion in New York’s Hudson Valley a century ago not only to inspire women entrepreneurs and young African-Americans, but also to entertain her wide circle of illustrious friends.

Photos from the Madam Walker family archives except where noted; photo by David Bohl, Historic New England

When Walker moved into Villa Lewaro 100 years ago this June, she pronounced it her “dream of dreams” and The New York Times called it “a place fit for a fairy princess.” Located at 67 N. Broadway in Irvington-on-Hudson, the neo-Palladian white stucco mansion with a red-tiled roof is less than 5 miles downriver from John D. Rockefeller’s Kykuit and about a mile from Jay Gould’s Lyndhurst.

Madam C. J. Walker’s Secrets to Success”

Author: A’lelia Bundles

Published: 02/24/15, Biography

“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the wash tub. . .from there to the kitchen. . .and from there, I promoted myself!” − Madam C.J. Walker (1912)

Madam C. J. Walker—entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist, patron of the arts—was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on the same Delta, Louisiana plantation where her parents had been enslaved. Orphaned at seven, married at 14 and widowed at 20 with a two-year-old daughter, she moved to St. Louis where three older brothers owned a barbershop. Throughout the 1890s—in the neighborhood where ragtime music was born—she worked as a laundress, sang in her church choir and began to aspire to a better life as she observed the educated, civic-minded women at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Madam Walker at the wheel of her Waverly Electric. (Photo: ©Madam Walker Family Archives/www.madamcjwalker.com)

In 1913—when fewer than 10 percent of licensed drivers were women—Madam Walker owned three automobiles: a Ford Model T, a Waverly Electric and a luxury, seven-passenger Cole Touring Car. For afternoon trips to the movies, she preferred her Waverly. For an overseas sales trip to Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama and Costa Rica that year, she shipped the Cole and brought along her chauffeur.

Know your history: Understanding racism in the US

Author: A’lelia Bundles

Published: 08/15/15, Al Jazeera Magazine

There will never be an acceptable explanation for what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson in Ferguson but we will never fully grasp why the stage was set for such an encounter unless we know American history.

We cannot fully comprehend why Dylan Roof murdered nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston unless we study the Civil War and the Confederacy.

We cannot truly fathom how a minor traffic stop in Cincinnati could result in a white campus police officer blowing out the brains of an unarmed black man unless we delve into the role race has played in law enforcement from the enactment of the federal Fugitive Slave Act in 1850 to today’s mandatory minimum sentencing statutes.

An African American woman yells ‘Freedom’ when asked to shout so loud it will be heard all over the world at the March on Washington in August 1963 [Express Newspapers/Getty Images/File]

Examining American history provides us with the tools to analyse how the death of Michael Brown and the demonstrations on Florrisant Avenue became a tipping point and sparked a movement. Connecting the dots between the past and the present helps us to see the origins of our current national debate – about race, police misconduct, white supremacy, white privilege, inequality, incarceration and the unfinished equal rights agenda.