She also sat for Greenwich Village resident, Berenice Abbott (1898-1991), one of the premiere photographers of the 20th century and a protegee of Man Ray. Perhaps best known for her dramatic black-and-white photographs of New York City architecture during the 1930s, Abbott also was an accomplished portrait photographer.
Sylvia Beach, the American owner of Paris’s Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, once said, “To be ‘done’ by Man Ray or Berenice Abbott meant you rated as somebody.”
By 1930, when I believe these photos were taken, A’Lelia Walker–as the daughter of entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker and as the hostess of The Dark Tower, one of the most iconic gathering places of the Harlem Renaissance–certainly was “somebody.”
Several years ago, as I was looking through my Walker collection, I realized that one of the necklaces my grandparents had saved actually matched the jewelry in the Abbott photograph. I’d originally discovered it in my mother’s jewelry box and worn it during the 1960s and 1970s because it fit so well with the hippie fashion of the era. At the time I had no idea of its significance or that it had belonged to my namesake and great-grandmother, the first A’Lelia.
Now each day as I write new pages of my A’Lelia Walker biography, I look up at these photos and wonder what in the world was making my namesake smile so happily!