Madam Walker's November 8, 1916 letter to F. B. Ransom (MadamWalkerFamilyArchives http://www.aleliabundles.com)

Combine clues in a faded letter from November 1916 with the algorithms of Facebook and the distance across the decades evaporates.

Finding descendants and relatives of people who knew my great-great-grandmother, Madam C. J. Walker, and her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, two decades ago when I was researching On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker often was a hit or miss proposition.

But even then–long before we had all the Internet tools we now take for granted–I had the sense that the ancestors were leading me to the interviews I did in the homes of surviving Harlem Renaissance icons Alberta Hunter, Dorothy West, Bruce Nugent and Geraldyn Dismond (later known as Jet’s society columnist, Gerri Major) and artist Romare Bearden, whose mother, Bessye Bearden, had been a close friend of A’Lelia Walker’s. Continue Reading »


Faith Ringgold's "The Sunflowers Quilting Bee at Arles" and Madam C. J. Walker Between friendship links on Facebook and research on Ancestry.com (which I've decided is Facebook for the dearly departed), I've been able to make connections and conduct a level of intimate research for my new book about my great-grandmother, A'Lelia Walker, that I cou … Read More

via Madam Walker/A'Lelia Walker Family Archives

Gravesite of Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker at Woodlawn Cemetery

Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx–where Madam C. J. Walker, A’Lelia Walker, Miles Davis, Joseph Pulitzer, Celia Cruz, Duke Ellington, Herman Melville, Countee Cullen and hundreds of other famous New Yorkers are buried–was named a National Historic Landmark yesterday.

Check out our Woodlawn Cemetery Blog post at www.aleliabundles.com

Roland Hayes's 1924 Chicago Concert (from Madam Walker Family Archives of A'Lelia Bundles/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 had been afforded many privileges, including harp lessons and enrollment at Spelman College.

Several years ago, I came across this  program from lyric tenor Roland Hayes’s January 15, 1924 program at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, which Mae attended, in my Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives. At the time of the concert, Mae recently had moved to Chicago. Like others in the city’s black community, she had looked forward to hearing Hayes sing selections from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” black British composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s “Hiawatha” and spirituals, including “Go Down Moses,”  arranged by Harry T. Burleigh, in one of his first American concerts after his triumphant return from Europe. After the performance, one black newspaper reported:  “The absolute hush that has been referred to so often in Mr. Hayes’ concerts Continue Reading »

A'Lelia Walker loved flowers! Orchids. Dahlias. Gladiolas. Roses. (From the Madam Walker Family Archives of A'Lelia Bundles http://www.aleliabundles.com)

My great-grandmother, A’Lelia Walker–whom Langston Hughes called the “Joy Goddess of Harlem”–loved flowers. Dahlias. Gladiolas. Roses. Orchids. Nothing pleased her more than for her friends to fill her home with flowers on her birthday, June 6th, or any other special occasion for that matter.

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, when I read that. Both of these daughters of larger than life figures not only shared the pressure and expectations of others, but also a birthday! That gives me even more to ponder as I write about how A’Lelia Walker handled being Madam C. J. Walker’s daughter. Continue Reading »

When you write for a living, you never know where your words will land. You always hope your messages will make a difference, but there’s no guarantee. Yesterday was one of those days that made it all worthwhile.

I’d heard earlier this year about the smart young sisters of Watoto from the Nile, who had challenged Lil Wayne to clean up his misogynistic act, but with so much Internet overload I’d never gotten around to viewing it. Imagine my surprise when my friend, Sonja Gracy, told me the “Letter to Lil Wayne” video includes a shout out to my book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.
I was just tickled to death when I saw the image of the book I’d spent so many years researching and writing pop up on the YouTube screen!
No lie, it truly made my day–maybe even my year–to learn that the young ladies of Watoto on the Nile might have drawn at least a little of the inspiration for their courageous retort to Lil Wayne from some of the stories I gathered for this biography of my great-great-grandmother.
Thanks Watoto from the Nile!

Visit us at http://www.aleliabundles.com/ and at www.madamcjwalker.com

So sad to learn of the passing of Rev. Peter Gomes. Always dignified, erudite, witty and wise. Sometimes wickedly, wryly hilarious. He was a man whose sense of decorum and decency never wavered. He became assistant minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church in 1970, the same year my class arrived in Cambridge, and so many of us developed a sense of kinship with him. His address to us at our last reunion perfectly captured our journey and was one of the highlights of the weekend.

Here is a sermon he delivered at Duke University

Although I never attended tea at his home, it was, as you can see from the video, a Cambridge tradition of much popularity.

May he rest in peace.

New York Times obituary 3-1-2011