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What is Madam CJ Walker’s real legacy? Part 2

• Dec 19, 2009

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
BGLH: Madame Walker died young (at age 51). What was the cause?
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?
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?
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.

I’m equally as interested in the life of A’Lelia Walker, my great-grandmother and namesake, and currently am at work on a biography of her life, parties, travels and friendships with the musicians, actors, writers, artists and celebrities of the Harlem Renaissance. I’ll always be interested in telling Madam Walker’s story, but I’m eager to add another dimension to the public knowledge of the Walker women. My website,, is a way for me to spread the word about their lives.

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

BGLH: What do you want women to take away from your great, great grandmother’s life story?
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

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Chocolate Rose
12 years ago

This was great, informative interview. Thank you!!

12 years ago

This has been a really interesting series. Thanks for posting!

Curly Film Chick
12 years ago

this was amazing. I’m going to put that book on my reading list.

12 years ago

What a wonderful interview. I am looking forward to reading the book and I congratulate BGLH on a job well done in giving your readers a great blog.

yours truly
yours truly
12 years ago

nice series. it was really enlightening to see some light shed on her accomplishments. looking forward to more from BGLH.

12 years ago

Erm. I went to the website, and there’s a picture there of Madam Walker before using relaxer and after.

And it PISSES ME OFF that they wrote there Madam Walker before and after her “wonderful” discovery.

I’m sorry. I know she’s someone’s great grandmother and I definitely cannot knock her business acumen, but there was NOTHING WONDERFUL about her discovery.

Thanks. I just had to say it.

12 years ago

I am very happy to have stumbled upon these posts. I was always led to believe that she invented the hot comb. good to know the truth

Hydro Closet
11 years ago

Hi there — first off, been a longtime fan, first time commenter. I thought I might as well say thanks for posting this piece, and I’ll be back!

11 years ago

I would like more information on Madame C.J. Walker’s haire products and where can I find these products to buy either by mail order at any Beauty Supply Stores in Maryland, Montgomery county. or Houston Texas. or call me 240–551-4020.

Thank you

10 years ago

It is the best time to make some plans for the future and it’s time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you some interesting things or advice. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read more things about it!

koffein godis
9 years ago

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7 years ago

Come on, you guys gotta realize the woman invented a damaging system, right? or did BGLH officially sell out? What’s going on with this site nowadays?

youngin girl
youngin girl
7 years ago

One of my inspirations. Something positive worth reading today.

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