Learning Adventures in Citizenship
Episode 5Topic 2A'Lelia Walker
A'Lelia Walker

A'Lelia Walker
Although A'Lelia Walker was neither a writer, artist, nor political leader, she had a big influence on the Harlem Renaissance. As a wealthy philanthropist, she enjoyed throwing lavish parties that brought writers, artists, and publishers together.

Her wealth came from her mother, Madam C. J. Walker, an entrepreneur who opened an office and beauty salon in New York in 1913. Madam Walker made her fortune by selling hair-care products of her own invention, which enhanced hair growth and scalp health. In her own time, as well as today, she has been criticized for insulting the natural beauty of African American women by selling hair straighteners. "Let me correct the erroneous impression that I claim to straighten hair . . . I grow hair," Madam stated. "I want the great masses of my people to take a greater pride in their appearance and to give their hair proper attention." When she died in 1919, her daughter, A'Lelia, became the president of the company.

During the Harlem Renaissance, Walker organized literary events in her New York townhouse nicknamed "The Dark Tower." She also organized parties at her country mansion along the Hudson River, known as Villa Lewaro. Prominent writers, artists, and African and European royalty attended these events. In 1922, she went to Africa to visit Ethiopian Empress Waizeru Zauditu.

Fond of expensive cars and precious jewels, she also symbolized the extravagance of the "roaring" 1920s. Poet Langston Hughes dubbed A'Lelia the "joy goddess of Harlem's 1920s." When she died in 1931, Hughes wrote that her passing marked the end of the Harlem Renaissance.

Illustration: Courtesy of the A'Lelia Bundles/Walker Family Collection.

"A Lamppost in Harlem" | The Harlem Renaissance | Langston Hughes | Zora Neale Hurston | James Weldon Johnson | W.E.B. Du Bois | Marcus Garvey | A'Lelia Walker | Pride and Prejudice

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