A'Lelia Bundles Is On A Mission To Tell The Truth About Madam C.J. Walker

Written by on March 30, 2020

The brand new Netflix miniseries, “Self Made: Impressed by the Lifetime of Madam C.J. Walker,” has sparked a renewed curiosity within the lifetime of the famed entrepreneur, and A’Lelia Bundles is grateful for it.

“Tens of millions of individuals now know who Madam Walker is,” Bundles, who wrote the biography that impressed the four-part miniseries in regards to the cosmetics and hair care mogul, instructed HuffPost. “Now it provides me a possibility to inform Madam Walker’s story and to inform the information of the story.”

The information of Walker’s life have been murky for a while, however Bundles devoted 20 years of analysis to clear up among the confusion that surrounds the millionaire’s life. That’s why, although she believed Octavia Spencer’s portrayal of Walker was superb, there’s no substitute for the precise historical past. 

“I actually do hope folks will learn the e-book as a result of there’s no approach to put all of this life into 4 45-minute episodes,” Bundles defined. “There’s quite a bit that I did to attempt to create context and historic context. And what occurs in Hollywood could be very completely different from what occurs for me as a journalist. And for me, as a biographer, I’m actually sticking to the information. Every part that I put in my books could be documented.”

Netflix consulted Bundles for the miniseries, however in the end the present was a dramatization based mostly on Walker’s life, with fictional characters and scenes added. We talked with Bundles on Instagram Reside in regards to the miniseries and her e-book.

What are among the different issues folks ought to learn about Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter that had been omitted from the miniseries?

For me, what’s actually essential about her life was that she was nurtured, mentored, and empowered by different girls. And a part of that’s how she obtained to the purpose of doing that for different girls. When she was the poor Sarah Breedlove-McWilliams, widowed at 20, who moved from Louisiana to Mississippi, alongside the Mississippi River to St Louis. She had three older brothers who had been barbers who had been there. She started to be taught the hair care enterprise from her brothers. Their barbershop was very close to Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, and it was the ladies of the church, like Jesse Batts Robinson, a schoolteacher, who actually started to present [Walker] a imaginative and prescient of herself as one thing apart from an illiterate washerwoman.

These girls had been a part of nationwide organizations. In order that’s the place she actually obtained this concept of organizing girls. So by that and carrying by the story, she begins an organization. Sure, she works for [businesswoman] Annie Malone for some time, however for a short time, after which she begins to develop her personal enterprise, establishes an organization, and trains hundreds of girls. She turns into a patron of the humanities, a political activist who helps the anti-lynching motion and concerned in so many different issues. In order that half, the philanthropy and her political activism actually will get telescoped within the sequence. 

Journalist A'Lelia Bundles appears at In Her Footsteps: The Legacy of Madam C.J. Walker at the March On Washington Film Festi

Journalist A’Lelia Bundles seems at In Her Footsteps: The Legacy of Madam C.J. Walker on the March On Washington Movie Competition on July 13, 2018, in Washington, D.C.

You revealed a brand new version of your Madam Walker biography. It was initially titled “On Her Personal Floor: The Life and Instances of Madam C. J. Walker,” nevertheless it’s been briefly renamed “Self Made” for the miniseries tie-in. What ought to folks count on to learn on this new version?

This e-book was first revealed in 2001. Loads of issues have occurred; I’ve been concerned in a whole lot of Madam Walker initiatives since then. The Madam Walker legacy middle in Indianapolis, a nationwide historic landmark, has simply undergone a $15 million renovation. We had been capable of donate hundreds of papers of Madam Walker’s letters and images and enterprise information to the Indiana Historic Society. These have now been digitized and there’s a brand new exhibit, however I simply attempt to convey folks updated on the entire issues which have occurred for the reason that e-book. I’ve additionally made some corrections within the e-book.

Anyone who’s a journalist or a author who experiences the information, from time to time, you’ve one thing that you simply didn’t get fairly proper. So I’ve accomplished issues like change “slaves” to “enslaved” as a result of that’s used extra now by students.

One different factor that I’ve up to date: After I wrote the e-book initially, as a result of we’ve, as we are saying, the receipts, we are able to actually doc all the things financially about Madam Walker, I estimated her private property to be between $600,000 and $700,000 on the time of her dying. Her vehicles, her jewellery, and so forth. However I used to be talking at a enterprise college and one of many professors mentioned to me, you recognize, whenever you had been doing this estimate, you disregarded the worth of her firm. And whenever you have a look at the gross sales for the final two years of her life and the 12 months after, a kind of years was nearly $600,000, which might be double that. In order that particular person mentioned to me if she had bought her enterprise on the day she died, it could have been value between $1 and $2 million.

So I’ve up to date that with these numbers. And there are many individuals who need to argue about who was the primary [Black millionaire], who wasn’t the primary. That’s probably not that essential to me. What’s essential to me is the legacy that Madam Walker left, the generational wealth she created, the ladies she empowered and the causes she was concerned in.

Within the miniseries, we’re launched to Addie Munroe [Carmen Ejogo], Madam Walker’s major antagonist. The character seems to have been impressed by Annie Malone, a rival and one other self-made Black girl millionaire. She is a legendary determine within the Midwest, which is why lots of people took how she was depicted within the miniseries personally. What precisely was her real-life relationship with Madam Walker?

I did a whole lot of unique analysis about Annie Malone. I feel the writers of this sequence, the pinnacle author and the showrunners, will say when they’re requested about that is that they don’t intend for Addie Monroe to be Annie Malone and that she is a composite character. I feel that many individuals have drawn that conclusion as a result of in actual life, Madam Walker’s major competitor was Annie Malone.

In my analysis, I documented that Madam Walker was a Malone agent. I all the time say each time I discuss her and after I write within the e-book that she is a vital historic determine, essential entrepreneur, philanthropist and one who educated hundreds of Black girls. So I see them as equals and that’s the way in which I’ve all the time talked about them.

So what does A’Lelia Bundles say about Annie Malone? She and Madam Walker are equals and they’re rivals. There’s a Malone biographer who began calling her Madam Walker’s mentor. My analysis means that it was a way more transactional relationship and never a mentoring relationship. Madam Walker’s mentors had been Jesse Batts Robinson, a schoolteacher who later ran her St. Louis magnificence college. One other mentor was Alice Kelly, a former dean of women at a Black boarding college in Kentucky, who grew to become the supervisor of her manufacturing facility. So these had been her mentors.

A'Lelia Bundles, looks at two pictures of Walker agents during the eighth annual <a href="https://aleliabundles.com/madam-c-j

Can we speak a bit of about how Madam Walker impressed different Black girls round her? I do assume the miniseries did an awesome job in showcasing how different Black girls rallied round her, like available in the market scene for instance.

That was certainly one of my favourite scenes. I like that as a result of anytime you’re making an attempt to promote one thing to any individual that they aren’t already conversant in, you recognize, folks might be like, I’m not speaking to you! However you can simply see how she was drawing them in. And I feel that was very a lot part of who she was as a result of she had been these girls. She had been that girl who didn’t manage to pay for, who couldn’t get a job, who was put down by different folks. So she knew that story and that was a part of her power. She and Charles Joseph Walker, they moved from St. Louis to Denver. She truly moved first and began promoting Malone’s merchandise. After which he joined her. He was very useful to her initially, however she type of outstripped him in ambition.

As they traveled round the US, she would go to a city, do a lecture, then she would assemble a bunch of possibly 10 to 15 girls downstairs within the basement on the church and recruit them as brokers. She had such eye for selecting leaders: She would see who requested the perfect questions, who different girls gravitated in direction of, which girls had charisma. She would make these girls her lead brokers.

The Nationwide Affiliation of Coloured Girls, the way in which these girls are portrayed within the movie is a bit completely different from actuality. That group was based in 1896, earlier than the NAACP. These had been girls who had traveled internationally. They weren’t girls who had been completely happy to be within the kitchen. They might have mentioned no to the kitchen. However [Walker] noticed these girls when she was nonetheless a poor washerwoman. That they had their 1904 conference in her church in St. Louis. And he or she knew the facility they’d. So when she had her first conference of her gross sales brokers in 1917, she was modeling it on the Nationwide Affiliation of Coloured Girls. She gave prizes, not simply to the ladies who bought probably the most merchandise, however to the ladies who had contributed probably the most to charity. They despatched a telegram to the president urging to help laws to make lynching a federal crime. So this was about energy. That is considerably about hair merchandise, however in the end about political energy.

One factor the miniseries didn’t contact on, was her political activism and philanthropy again then. Can we simply speak a bit of about among the issues she did?

Initially, the miniseries was presupposed to be ten episodes. I feel that, with ten episodes, they most likely may have accomplished extra with that. So I feel they wished to do extra. However Madam Walker’s involvement with lynching actually goes again to her childhood, when she was rising up in Delta, Louisiana. Her household minister was elected to the state Senate in Louisiana. After which he and her brothers had been chased out of Louisiana by the Ku Klux Klan across the time of the 1876 election. So she had seen that there was some seeds planted, however you couldn’t get that sense of it into the movie.

And the Sweetness [Bill Bellamy] character is an invented character. However that was, I feel, the way in which that the writers had been making an attempt to verify they launched Madam Walker’s curiosity in lynching. However in truth, she was very a lot concerned talking out and as individuals who’ve learn my e-book know, this isn’t within the movie, that she and Ida B. Wells had been spied upon by a Black spy from the battle division throughout World Battle I and referred to as “Negro Subversives,” primarily as a result of they had been talking out. They had been talking out for Black folks.

Harlem, New York: A'Lelia Walker is shown supervising a facial in one of Madam C.J. Walker's many beauty parlors.

Harlem, New York: A’Lelia Walker is proven supervising a facial in certainly one of Madam C.J. Walker’s many magnificence parlors.

Let’s discuss A’Lelia Walker, Madam Walker’s daughter. You’re writing a e-book about her, proper?

Sure. So I’m nearly completed with the primary main biography of A’Lelia Walker referred to as “The Pleasure Goddess of Harlem: A’Lelia Walker and The Harlem Renaissance.” I’ve accomplished further many years’ value of analysis. Within the biography of Madam Walker, I develop the connection between the 2 girls. And what I discovered after I was writing that e-book is that a lot of the issues that folks knew about Madam Walker had been incorrect. And I’m discovering as I’m writing, a lot of the issues folks learn about A’Lelia Walker are incorrect. She’s portrayed as a celebration woman. She’s very completely different from the character who seems within the sequence. If folks go to my web site, I’ve an article on the weblog titled “The Actual A’Lelia Walker Is A lot Extra Attention-grabbing Than the Delusion.”

And I’ve simply found she knew all people, all of the artists and musicians and writers. She hosted the primary artwork present for Augusta Savage, who was a really well-known Black girl sculptor. She helped to underwrite some issues; she employed a whole lot of black musicians. She additionally was actually type of an impresario and she or he knew the right way to have huge occasions that may get consideration. She traveled internationally to London, Paris, Rome for the coronation of the Pope, Addis Ababa, the place she met the Empress of Ethiopia. So she’s a way more substantial character. So it’s actually type of painful to me to see folks kind of again and again, mainly say, Madam Walker made the cash, and A’Lelia spent the cash. So I’m hoping that this new e-book will her due, which she deserves. The e-book might be out subsequent 12 months.

A’Lelia Walker was depicted as a free-spirited queer girl within the miniseries. Although there’s no concrete proof she was, in line with Tiffany Haddish, who performed her in “Self Made,” the present’s writers wished to lean into the “rumor” that Lelia was bisexual. Are you able to inform us a bit of about that? 

Proper. And that’s as a result of that’s the story that I inform. So, you recognize, Esther [A’Lelia Walker’s love interest] isn’t an actual character. I don’t assume that she would have been as out, definitely at the moment earlier than 1920 within the early ’80s after I was interviewing a whole lot of A’Lelia Walker’s pals who had been nonetheless alive and lots of of whom had been queer. They talked in regards to the distinction between the way in which folks operated then and now. So folks had been very way more circumspect. So it could not have been out and there was nothing that I’ve ever present in 50, actually 50 years, of analysis that urged to me that she had a relationship with a lady throughout her mom’s lifetime. So there would have been no battle between her and her mom in actual life. And so, I don’t know, the writers actually are those who must discuss what their motivation and goal was with that character.

The true battle between mom and daughter throughout her lifetime was between two boyfriends. Each medical doctors, each good-looking. Madam Walker most well-liked one over the opposite. I write an awesome deal. I developed these relationships. Now a whole lot of A’Lelia Walker’s pals had been queer. Lots of people who had been at her events, individuals who had been queer and who weren’t queer and had been very a lot part of her circle of pals. She had a large circle of pals. What I’ve found, and that is really circumstantial and I’ve no letters, however my sense is that there’s a relationship with an individual who was a longtime good friend, however I’ve no concrete proof. However I, as you do when you’re writing nonfiction, I’ll attempt to artfully talk about this relationship. So get pleasure from “Goddess.” I might be speaking about it for people who find themselves curious and for whom that issues.

This interview has been edited and condensed for size and readability.

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