A’Lelia Bundles is calling on followers of her great-great-grandmother Madam CJ Walker to get behind an honorary Congressional bill that would pay homage to the entrepreneurial achievements of Walker, America’s first black female millionaire.
The bill, H.J. Res. 81, was introduced to Congress by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY), who has sought to recognize the achievements and importance of Madam CJ Walker in black history.
Ms Bundles spoke to NewsOne about the movement and told of how she felt a personal obligation to honor a woman whose story had helped to influence and shape her own life, including as the inspiration of Ms Bundles’ 2002 biography about Madam Walker.
“Seeing how much she inspires other women has really shaped this part of my career,” she said. “It’s become my second career.”
But she also said that it took her decades of personal experience to finally become interested in writing about her great-great-grandmother, who was responsible for creating one of the first nationally distributed lines of hair care products for black women, including some that could straighten hair.
Ms Bundles developed an ironic resistance to her great-great-grandmother’s legacy from a young age, growing a large “Angela Davis’ afro” and making sure the world knew about it.
“I wanted a big afro,” she said, laughing. “My mother took me to the Madam CJ Walker Beauty Salon and they have me a very big afro.”
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But this resistance change when a college professor insisted that Ms Bundles pursue the story of Madam CJ Walker in a course paper, which helped lead to the production and publication of Ms Bundles’ 2002 biography, ‘On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker.’
She said the biography of her great-great-grandmother was an opportunity for the world to learn of a real person whose character and life story was much more than that of simply a millionaire businesswoman.
Indeed, there was a dark side to Madam CJ Walker’s early life that few people knew about. She was orphaned at the age of 7 and widowed by age 20, becoming a single mother.
“She was a very resilient person because she had such a difficult early life,” Ms Bundles said. “I think that was also reflected in how she educated her daughter and worked hard to give her the opportunities she never had.”
The biography has also had an immense impact on the professional life of Ms Bundles.
She had previously worked for over 30 years in mainstream media, including stints in recruiting, producing and reporting at ABC and NBC.
In recent year, she been invited to deliver speeches in London and Jerusalem, and has also shared the stories of Madam CJ Walker with a diverse range of audiences, from the women of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility to the students of the Harvard Business School.
Ms Bundles said the reason why her great-great-grandmother’s legacy is applicable in these settings is because her story is “relevant and inspirational” to many types of women.
Ms Bundles is now in the process of writing another biography about her great-grandmother, the daughter of Madam CJ Walker, A’Lelia Walker. She hopes to recreate an unexplored scene from the Harlem Renaissance, a movement with which A’Leila Walker was intimately involved.
But Ms. Bundles said she also planed to continue to help increase awareness about the Congressional bill to honor her great-great-grandmother.
She recommends that if you are interested in supporting the bill you write to your Congressional representative stating your support. There is currently a Facebook page dedicated to the bill and you can also read more about it on the GovTrack website.