A’Lelia Walker: A Study

A;Lelia Walker was one of the most interesting figures of the Harlem Renaissance.As a young heiress to a substantial fortune from her mother andfirst successful Negro entrepreneur, A;Lelia Walker set the stage where all the important figures of the Harlem Renaissance came to play.Walker used her fortune to entertain lavishly during the Harlem Renaissance, and became one of its most beloved and well-known insiders.In more ways than one, she became the bright little center that the rest of the art and literary world crowded around.Walker’s circle of friends included poet Langston Hughes, writer Countee Cullen, and music critic, photographer and novelist Carl Van Vechten.She was pivotal in getting black artists and writers ;noticed; by the right people, even though she was not one of them.

Walker was born Lelia McWilliams on June 6, 1885, in Vicksburg, Mississippi, daughter of Sarah Breedlove and Moses McWilliams.Sarah worked as a washerwoman and raised Lelia alone after McWilliams disappeared.Lelia was no more than eighteen when her mother remarried and changed her name to Madam C. J. Walker.She founded a line of hair-care products in St. Louis, Missouri, apparently inspired by a dream in which a large black man provided her with a secret formula that would straighten black hair. After briefly attending Tennessee;s Knoxville College, Lelia joined her mother in the family business, which by 1908 had become extremely successful. At the age of 23, Lelia was head of the company’s Pittsburgh office, and oversaw both the branch and Lelia College, the cosmetology-training center her mother had named after her. In 1912 Lelia adopted a daughter, Mae.

In 1914 Madam Walker became one of thefirst African Americans to own property in Harlem. She bought a pair of townhouses on 136th Street.During this time, Lelia had already married and divorced a man named Robinson.She joined her mother in New Yor…

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