Madam Walker’s Shawl and the Iconic 1912 Addison Scurlock Portrait

July is always a month of memories for me because my grandfather, Marion Rowland Perry, Jr. was born on July 11 and my mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, on July 22. During the summer of 1982–as I was in the midst of doing research for the first of my two biographies of my great-great-grandmother, Madam C. J. Walker–I visited my grandfather for his 90th birthday in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Madam Walker's Chinese silk shawl and the Addison Scurlock portrait in which it was worn (Madam Walker Family Archives/aleliabundles.com)

I shared stories about that magical visit–and my rediscovery of a steamer trunk filled with Walker family treasures–in the prologue of my book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. My dear PaPa had saved all the items I remembered from my childhood visits to his Indianapolis apartment: Madam Walker’s mother-of-pearl opera glasses, my grandmother Mae’s wedding dress, my great-grandmother A’Lelia Walker’s 1919 marriage license (complete with pressed baby’s breath) and her gold filigree-trimmed negligee.

But perhaps my most prized find that day was the shawl Madam Walker had worn in the circa 1912 Addison Scurlock photograph of her that now has become iconic. Continue reading

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Woodlawn Cemetery–Burial Place of Madam Walker–Designated National Historic Landmark

Madam Walker's Gravesite at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx (www.aleliabundles.com)

June 30, 2011: Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced that The Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx–where enterpreneur Madam C. J. Walker and her Harlem Renaissance arts patron daughter, A’Lelia Walker, are buried–has been designated a National Historic Landmark, the highest recognition accorded to the nation’s most historically significant properties.

There are two other National Historic Landmarks associated with the legacy of the Walker women: The Madam Walker Theatre Center, a cultural arts organization in Indianapolis, and Villa Lewaro, the home Madam Walker built in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York in 1918. Continue reading

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Lyric Tenor Roland Hayes’s January 1924 Chicago Performance

Roland Hayes 1924 Concert Program (Madam Walker Family Archives of A'Lelia Bundles http://www.aleliabundles.com)


I learned to read music on a Chickering baby grand piano that had belonged to my great-grandmother, A’Lelia Walker, but it really was my mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, and my grandmother, Mae Walker Perry, who had musical talent. As the only legally adopted daughter of A’Lelia Walker and granddaughter of entrepreneur Madam C. J. Walker, Mae was afforded many privileges, including harp lessons, enrollment at Spelman College and the chance to travel throughout the United States with Madam Walker.

Several years ago, I came across this  program from lyric tenor Roland Hayes’s January 15, 1924 program at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall among Mae’s belongings. It now is part of my Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, the largest private collection of Walker photographs, business records, personal letters, clothing and Walker memorabilia. Continue reading

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A’Lelia Walker’s Sterling Silver Flask

A'Lelia Walker's Sterling Silver Flask (from the Madam Walker/A'Lelia Walker Family Archives http://www.aleliabundles.com)

Now that I’m into the serious writing phase of my new biography of A’Lelia Walker (1885-1931), my great-grandmother and the only daughter of entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C. J. Walker, I’ll be posting more stories about the discoveries I’ve been making.

I’m truly fortunate to have inherited a trove of letters, clothes, furniture and other personal items that belonged to the Walker women. Among them is this flask.

A’Lelia Walker rarely missed a Howard-Lincoln football game between 1918 and 1931. This rivalry –as legendary among African Americans as the Harvard-Yale competition was to Ivy Leaguers–brought thousands of alumni and friends together each Thanksgiving Day, alternating between Philadelphia (the closest big city to Lincoln’s rural Pennsylvania campus) and Washington, DC. Continue reading

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June 6, 2011: Happy Birthday A’Lelia Walker!

A'Lelia Walker loved flowers! (Madam Walker Family Archives/www.aleliabundles.com)

My great-grandmother and namesake, A’Lelia Walker (1885-1931), loved getting flowers on her birthday! Orchids. Dahlias. Gladiolas. Roses.

She had everything else–houses, diamonds, furs, cars–plus great friends, a gregarious spirit and a love of life. Well, almost everything, but you’ll have to wait for my new book, Joy Goddess, to learn the rest of the story!

In fact, I’ve been working so hard on the book, that I’d actually forgotten today was her birthday until my good friend, Janet Sims-Wood, posted a story on Facebook noting that today also is the birthday of Portia Washington Pittman, Booker T. Washington’s only daughter. Heavens, I thought, Continue reading

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Berenice Abbott’s 1930 Photographs of A’Lelia Walker

A'Lelia Walker by Berenice Abbott circa 1930 (from Walker Family Archives of A'Lelia Bundles)

A’Lelia Walker–charismatic, statuesque and stylish–posed for many of the most noted Harlem Renaissance photographers and sculptors, including Richmond Barthe, Augusta Savage, James Van Der Zee, James Latimer Allen and R. E. Mercer.

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. Continue reading

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1945 Madam Walker Annual Yearbook

This afternoon as I was looking through my files I came across this 1945 Madam Walker Annual Yearbook. Each year the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company published an almanac with information for its thousands of sales agents. 

1945 Walker Company Annual (A’Lelia Bundles/Walker Family Archives/www.aleliabundles.com)

That year is a particularly significant to me because my grandmother, Mae Walker Perry, who was president of the Walker Company, would die that December. My mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry, who was a freshman at Howard University, would be named president of the company at the time of her mother’s death.

In 1945 there were eleven branches of the Walker College of Beauty Culture in cities ranging from Indianapolis and Washington, DC to Dallas and Baltimore. The Walker Company offered at least 30 products including its signature Glossine and a relatively new “Superfine Face Powder.”

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