The influence A'Lelia Walker had on New York during her lifetime started before she was born. Her mother, Madame C.J. Walker, was a key component to what A'Lelia accomplished for African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance. A'Lelia influenced the culture within New York City threw her high status in business, inheritance, and admiration for the complex social life of Harlem.
She first began helping her mother in 1906 when they co-founded the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company in Denver, Colorado. The business moved from state to state around the United States. There was a family hair-care company in Pennsylvania, Indianapolis, Colorado, and New York.
The Walker family decided to move to New York around the 1920s; about the same time the Harlem Renaissance was taking place. She first arrived to New York to aid her mother in a rapidly growing company that involved hair care products specifically for colored women. Madame C.J Walker changed the game for natural hair and A'Lelia had a front row seat to her historic impact. A'Lelia had business experience at a very young age and took control of the local business when her mother traveled to other companies around the United States.
While A'Lelia lived in New York, she was amazed by the current culture and social life; the Harlem Renaissance was in its early stages. Initially called the "New Negro Movement," the Harlem Renaissance was a literary and intellectual movement that focused on a new cultural identity for black Americans in the 1920s and 1930s. A'Lelia did not become active in this movement until the death of her mother. On May 25, 1919, Madam C.J. Walker died of hypertension and natural hair culture was never the same. At age 51, Madam C.J. Walker died and was buried in New York and left a business behind that was worth more than $1 million. In other words, Madam C.J. Walker is now considered one of the first American women to become a self-made millionaire. can I get an okurrrrrr?!?
imagine the inheritance left for A'Lelia after the death of her mother. A'Lelia Walker inherited the estate, Villa Lewaro, on the Hudson River north of New York City. This home was where her mother's funeral was held, and where she stayed most while in New York. Along with that, she was left a townhouse in Harlem on 136th Street near Lenox Avenue. Through the success of the Walker Company, A'Lelia was able to use that money to support local Harlem Renaissance artists, civil rights activists, black businessmen, etc.
In 1927, A'Lelia reconstructed a floor of the townhouse in Harlem into an exhibit called the "Dark Tower." This Harlem townhouse was meant to give support to renaissance artists and writers; a place where they could entertain. A'Lelia covered the expenses of two influential Harlem Renaissance artists, the writer Eric Walrond and the singer and writer Taylor Gordon.
The Dark Tower was open to many other artists and writers as well. Unfortunately, it closed in October 1928.
She later wrote,
"Having no talent or gift, but a love and keen appreciation for art, The Dark Tower was my contribution."
On August 16, 1931 A'Lelia Walker died of a cerebral hemorrhage in New Jersey at the age of 46 years old. She was a very loved individual in the Harlem community.
Well known Langston Hughes lovingly read a poem written for her funeral:
"So all who love laughterAnd joy and light
Let your prayers be as roses
For this queen of the night."
The home of the Walkers, Villa Lewaro, is now designated a National Historic Landmark. A'Lelia Walker is known to be an incredible businesswoman and a patron of the arts. To this day, we can't thank you enough for the support, A'Lelia. Your influence during the Harlem Renaissance still echoes in every black poet, entertainer, and artist- whether they know it or not.
Rest Easy Beautiful.
- to learn more about the beautiful life of A'Leila Walker, click here.