A’Lelia Bundles is the great-great granddaughter of Madam CJ Walker and author of the best-selling biography, ON HER OWN GROUND: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. A Harvard University graduate, Ms. Bundles became a fulltime author and professional speaker in 2006 after a 30-year career as an executive and producer in network television news. We are honored to have her on BGLH today to talk about her great-great grandmother’s legacy. Click HERE for part one of this interview.
Photo courtesy of about.com
AB: Madam Walker died in May 1919 of complications of hypertension, something that still is a problem in the black community. She had the best care available at the time, but some of the treatments that are common today and some of the knowledge we have about diet and exercise were not widely known or accessible at the time.
BGLH: Does any of your living family have any personal memories of your great-great grandmother?
AB: I was fortunate to have learned many family stories from my grandfather who lived to be 92. He had met Madam Walker’s daughter, A’Lelia Walker, in Harlem during the 1920s and married A’Lelia Walker’s daughter (and my grandmother), Mae, in 1927. During the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was beginning the research for my books, I was able to interview him and quite a few people who had known Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker. Madam Walker died in 1919 and A’Lelia Walker died in 1931, so there really is no one still living who knew them well.
BGLH: How do you keep the Walker legacy alive?
AB: It is a joy to tell Madam Walker’s story to audiences all over the world. I recently spoke in Jerusalem and have a busy Black History Month and Women’s History Month schedule. I love knowing that her story has just as much resonance with students at Harvard’s Business School as it does with women at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.
My book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, was the first truly comprehensive biography of Madam Walker, and is used in many college courses and read by many book clubs.
Perhaps the most tangible and accessible evidence of Madam Walker’s legacy—and the example of which I am most enthusiastic—is the Madam Walker Theatre Center in Indianapolis. This National Historic Landmark was the home of the Walker factory for more than five decades. Today it is a cultural and performing arts center which has hosted performers and artists ranging from Savion Glover, Ramsey Lewis, Philadanco Dancers, Smokey Robinson and Patti LaBelle. For more information visit www.walkertheatre.com
BGLH: What do you want women to take away from your great, great grandmother’s life story?
AB: I hope others are inspired by Madam Walker’s story. Many people are impressed by her achievements as an entrepreneur. She often is cited as the first self-made American woman millionaire. But to me, what makes her truly worth remembering is that she used her wealth and influence as a philanthropist and political activist and that she empowered thousands of African American women and helped them become financially independent. She was very involved in the anti-lynching movement and contributed to black schools, colleges and political causes.
For more information on Madam CJ Walker go to http://www.madamcjwalker.com/.