On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker (Lisa Drew Books (Paperback))

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Press:Scribner Scribner; Reprint edition (January 1, 2002)
Publication Date:2002-01-02
Author Name:A'Lelia Bundles


On Her Own Ground is the first full-scale, definitive biography of Madam C. 
Walker—the legendary African American entrepreneur and philanthropist—by her great-great-granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles.The daughter of slaves, Madam C.
Walker was orphaned at seven, married at fourteen and widowed at twenty.
She spent the better part of the next two decades laboring as a washerwoman for $1.50 a week.
Then—with the discovery of a revolutionary hair care formula for black women—everything changed.
By her death in 1919, Walker managed to overcome astonishing odds: building a storied beauty empire from the ground up, amassing wealth unprecedented among black women and devoting her life to philanthropy and social activism.
Along the way, she formed friendships with great early-twentieth-century politi-cal figures such as W.E.B.
Du Bois and Booker T.
On Her Own Ground is not only the first comprehensive biography of one of recent history's most amazing entrepreneurs and philanthropists, it is about a woman who is truly an African American icon.
Drawn from more than two decades of exhaustive research, the book is enriched by the author's exclusive access to personal letters, records and never-before-seen photographs from the family collection.
Bundles also showcases Walker's complex relationship with her daughter, A'Lelia Walker, a celebrated hostess of the Harlem Renaissance and renowned friend to both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston.
In chapters such as “Freedom Baby,” “Motherless Child,” “Bold Moves” and “Black Metropolis,” Bundles traces her ancestor's improbable rise to the top of an international hair care empire that would be run by four generations of Walker women until its sale in 1985.
Along the way, On Her Own Ground reveals surprising insights, tells fascinating stories and dispels many misconceptions.

From Publishers Weekly

Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter of America's first black woman millionaire, evinces great affection for her famous relative, even if she doesn't overcome a major hurdle: Madam Walker kept her intimate life so private that there's not much to say about it. 
In the first chapters, Bundles uses a lot of awkward "possibly"s and "perhaps"s as she speculates about her subject's motivations and feelings.
Once into the swing of Madam Walker's career, however, Bundles sidesteps the problem by turning social historian, leaving questions of love and sex aside.
Walker's trajectory from uneducated washerwoman to hair-care industry magnate becomes the organizing element for a larger mosaic of black life in America, from Reconstruction through the founding of the NAACP in 1909.
There's solid business history here, too, as Madam Walker figures out how to make her kitchen industry into a national empire by franchising it.
Walker's philanthropy and social consciousness (working for the antilynching and the African anticolonial movements, for example) made her an important powerbroker in the black community.
With fascinating details on benevolent and fraternal organizations, urban churches, black colleges, political movements and government surveillance of those involved in them, Bundles takes readers on an engrossing tour of a neglected corner of American history.
Agent, Gail Ross.
1) Forecast: While this is too densely researched for the average Oprah fan, devotees of social history, women's studies and business narratives will find Bundles's work a treasureAand find it they will as Bundles goes out on a major nine-city tour.
This could easily become a staple in college-level African-American studies classes, and a reading group favorite.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

TV journalist Bundles (ABC News) delivers the first comprehensive adult biography of Madame C.J. 
Walker, her great-great-grandmother, who was born Sarah Breedlove on a Louisiana plantation in 1867 and whose name subsequently became synonymous with hair straightening and black wealth.
The author dispels the myth that Walker invented the hair-straightening comb and made her money from hair-straightening products for black women, a highly political issue in Walker's time as well as our own.
Bundles instead focuses on Walker's impressive philanthropy, her business savvy, and the personal and political motivations that propelled her from washerwoman to cosmetics industry pioneer and legendary African American businesswoman.
Walker employed thousands of black women nationwide, zealously donated to organizations that served the black community, and was actively involved in anti-lynching and racial equality campaigns.
The book is a solidly researched and well-written historical account of a rags-to-riches experience that exemplifies the American dream.
Recommended for all African American history collections.
Sherri L.
Barnes, Univ.
of California Lib., Santa Barbara Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Bundles's great-great-grandmother Madam C. 
Walker founded a cosmetics empire in the early nineteen-hundreds.
Born in 1867 to former slaves on a Louisiana plantation, Walker was working as a laundress in St.
Louis in the eighteen-nineties when she began losing her hair.
First, she developed the scalp ointments that would make her rich; then she established a network of black women to use and sell the products, who went on to escape poverty as she had.
After years of contributing to black charities and anti-lynching campaigns, she died in her Westchester mansion, not far from the Rockefeller estate.
The author's extensive research and unemphatic style encourage readers to find their own relation to this exemplary American figure.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Booklist

Bundles, a journalist and great-great-granddaughter of Madam C. 
Walker, offers a lively portrait of a fascinating American businesswoman.
Walker, the first freeborn child of slaves, rose from poverty to establish a fabulously successful hair-care business, became one of the wealthiest women in the U.S., and devoted herself to a life of activism and philanthropy toward race and women's issues.
Using personal papers, letters, newspaper accounts, and interviews with people who knew Walker, Bundles conveys the spirit and drive of the woman and the personal and public challenges she faced.
Walker made powerful friends and was active, along with Booker T.
Washington and W.
DuBois, in fighting racial discrimination and violence.
A business innovator, Walker created a national sales force "expressly organized around the principles of corporate responsibility, social betterment, and racial justice." Bundles dispels misconceptions about Walker: she did not invent the straightening comb nor necessarily advocate that black women straighten their hair, and she was not a millionaire when she died in 1919, but had she lived longer, she was definitely headed in that direction.
Vanessa BushCopyright © American Library Association.
All rights reserved

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


USA Today On Her Own Ground is a fascinating book about a fascinating woman....A wonderful story of an entrepreneur, but also a story about a dedicated African-American woman who was committed to giving her time and money to her community.Chicago Tribune It is like finding out the secret sources of your past to read On Her Own Ground, a graceful biography by Walker's great-great-granddaughter....Bundles tells the tale with obvious affection and impressive scholarship....Under Bundles' deft handling, Walker's fable comes up fresh and inspirational. 
However we dress our hair, because of her, we daughters stand taller on our own ground.The Philadelphia Inquirer The life of Madam C.J.
Walker is one of the great success stories of American history.
The wonder of it is that On Her Own Ground is the first full-blown biography of an amazing woman.The New York Times Well-paced and well-written...as much social history as biography, filled with the detail and texture of culture and politics.Chicago Sun-Times More than a history lesson in her rise to fame, On Her Own Ground offers inspiration to women -- regardless of race -- on how to succeed against all odds.The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Bundles always knew, on some level, that this story was hers to tell.
And she tells it with a controlled passion and an integrity that would have made Madam Walker proud.Ishmael Reed Madam Walker is the key to understanding her generation.
She had to battle the society that consigned her to doing its laundry...yet she triumphed to become one of the most fabulous African-American figures of the twentieth century.

About the Author

A'Lelia Bundles, an award-winning network television news producer and former ABC News Washington deputy bureau chief, is director of talent development for ABC News. 
She is the author of numerous essays, articles, and encyclopedia entries about her great-great-grandmother, Madam C.J.
Walker, and a young-adult biography, Madam C.J.
Walker: Entrepreneur, which won an American Book Award.
She lives in Alexandria, Virginia.
Visit her Web site at www.madamcjwalker.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Prologue  Madam C. 
Walker's story has always deserved an expansive loom on which to weave the threads of her legendary life with the broad themes and major events of American history.
As my great-great-grandmother's biographer -- and as a journalist who loves a well-told story -- I consider it to be my good fortune both that she was born in 1867 on the plantation where General Ulysses S.
Grant staged the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg and that one of her brothers joined other former slaves in the 1879 mass exodus to the North from Louisiana and Mississippi.
I could not have fabricated a more perfect scenario than her confrontation with Booker T.
Washington at his 1912 National Negro Business League convention or her 1916 arrival in Harlem on the eve of America's entry into World War I.
I could not have invented her 1917 visit to the White House to protest lynching or her decision to build a mansion near the Westchester County estates of John D.
Rockefeller and Jay Gould.
Certainly when I learned that she had been considered a "Negro subversive" in 1918 and had been put under surveillance by a black War Department spy, I was convinced that reality indeed was more interesting than most fiction.
It has surely been a bonus for me that Madam Walker knew so many of the other African American luminaries of her time because the work of their biographers has provided invaluable guidance.
From the correspondence, papers and books of antilynching activist Ida B.
Wells-Barnett, educators Mary McLeod Bethune and Booker T.
Washington, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People executive secretary James Weldon Johnson, Crisis editor W.E.B.
Du Bois, labor leader A.
Philip Randolph and others, I have been able to resurrect long-forgotten relationships.
As a pioneer of the modern cosmetics industry and the founder of the Madam C.
Walker Manufacturing Company, Madam Walker created marketing schemes, training opportunities and distribution strategies as innovative as those of any entrepreneur of her time.
As an early advocate of women's economic independence, she provided lucrative incomes for thousands of African American women who otherwise would have been consigned to jobs as farm laborers, washerwomen and maids.
As a philanthropist, she reconfigured the philosophy of charitable giving in the black community with her unprecedented contributions to the YMCA and the NAACP.
As a political activist, she dreamed of organizing her sales agents to use their economic clout to protest lynching and racial injustice.
As much as any woman of the twentieth century, Madam Walker paved the way for the profound social changes that altered women's place in American society.
My personal journey to write On Her Own Ground, the first comprehensive biography of my great-great-grandmother really began before I could read.
The Walker women -- Madam, her daughter A'Lelia Walker and my grandmother Mae Walker -- were already beckoning me at an early age, sometimes whispering, sometimes clamoring with the message that I must tell their story.
In a faint childhood memory, their spirits envelop me in filtered gray light beneath a tall window inside my grandfather's apartment.
On a nearby dresser, just beyond my reach, I can see their sepia faces inside hand-carved frames.
Even as a little girl I sensed that these grandmothers belonged not only to me but to the world and to those who would claim them for their own dreams and fantasies.
Black history books had long recited the outlines of Madam Walker's classic American rags-to-riches rise from uneducated washerwoman to international entrepreneur and social activist, from daughter of slaves to hair care industry pioneer and philanthropist.
Poet Langston Hughes crowned A'Lelia Walker the "joy-goddess of Harlem's 1920s." The Negro press fancied Mae -- A'Lelia's adopted daughter and only legal heir -- a tan Cinderella.
By the time I discovered the Walker women's public mythology, they had already begun to draw me into the world of their private truths.
My grandfather, Marion Rowland Perry, Jr., first met Mae during the summer of 1927 at Villa Lewaro, Madam Walker's lavish Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, mansion.
A handsome young attorney and World War I army officer, he was quite proud of a lineage that included college-educated parents.
Mae was a recent divorcée and the future Walker heiress, whose thick, waist-length hair had helped sell thousands of tins of Madam C.
Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower.
That weekend, A'Lelia Walker invited Marion to the Cotton Club with her friends -- and without Mae -- to take the measure of the man she considered a potential son-in-law.
She discreetly slipped him a hundred-dollar bill to gauge his comfort with paying large tabs.
Apparently he passed her test, for a few weeks later, on August 27, he and Mae drove to Port Chester, New York, in his green Pierce-Arrow to be married by a justice of the peace.
The following July, my mother, A'Lelia Mae Perry, was born.
In 1955, when my mother, my father, S.
Henry Bundles, and I moved to Indianapolis, I was three years old and Mae had been dead for nearly a decade.
For a few weeks while we waited to move into our house, I slept in a bedroom of my grandfather's apartment surrounded by Mae's personal treasures.
I remember that, in the months afterward, whenever "Pa Pa" opened his front door to greet us, the gluey aroma of roast lamb, Lucky Strikes and old-man musk coated my nostrils.
In the entryway, as my mother knelt to adjust my hair bow and smooth my three long braids, my eyes always fixed upon a tall, moss-green Chinese lacquer secretary.
Letters, keys, stamps and paper clips tumbled from its tiny gold-trimmed drawers and secret cubbyholes.
A serene Ming Dynasty maiden stood guard on the door of its locked upper cabinet.
Even before I learned it had belonged to Madam and the first A'Lelia, I was tempted by its mysteries.
Beyond the foyer, the apartment rambled down a long, hushed hall.
At one end, Pa Pa's sleeping alcove opened onto a sitting room crammed with the Walker women's belongings -- A'Lelia's first editions of Jean Toomer's Cane and Countee Cullen's Color, Mae's gold harp and Madam's crystal Tiffany vases.
At the other end, toward the rear of the apartment, two shadowy bedrooms -- one of them Mae's -- and a rarely used dining room led to a bright, white-tiled kitchen where a dented porcelain pot always simmered with soup bones and stock, and where Pa Pa held court at his knife-scarred oak table.
While Pa Pa and my mother talked, I escaped into Mae's room, drawn time and again by a mauve moiré silk vanity.
Even now I can feel a quiet enchantment as I recall grasping cool ivory mah-jongg tiles and miniature enameled King Tut mummy charms.
I remember a fluffy ostrich fan in one drawer and mother-of-pearl opera glasses in another.
The more I stirred Mae's belongings, the more the scent of her Shalimar dusting powder emerged, masking the familiar grandfather mustiness that clung to all the other rooms.
Each piece of clothing, each photograph, each bejeweled mirror and monogrammed napkin became a genie's lamp waiting to be rubbed.
Three blocks from Pa Pa's apartment, my mother worked as vice president of the Madam C.
Walker Manufacturing Company, the hair care products firm her great-grandmother had founded in 1906.
Often when we arrived at the block-long flatiron building in Momma's 1955 black Mercury, Whitfield, the janitor, would be waving at us from beneath the marquee of the Walker Theatre.
His official job title notwithstanding, I still think of him as the ambassador of the Walker Building, full of news about the boiler, the freight elevator and whoever had just gone into the Walker Beauty Shop.
Opened in 1927, the brick-and-terra-cotta structure housed an elaborately decorated, African-themed theater that offered first-run movies and live jazz.
Generations of the city's African Americans had danced under the rotating mirrored globe in the upstairs Casino ballroom, met for Sunday afternoon dinner in the Coffee Pot or walked past the third-floor law offices of attorneys Mercer Mance and Rufus Kuykendall on their way to see Dr.
Lewis or Dr.
For me, riding the elevator was always an adventure.
Once inside, I fixated on Mary Martin's shiny, finger-waved tresses and cherry-rouged cheeks as she snapped shut the accordion brass gate with one fluid flick of her wrist, then lifted us four floors toward my mother's office.
Another glissade of Mary's manicured hands and the door clanked open.
The percussive clickety-clack of my mother's spike heels led me across a cayenne-flecked terrazzo lobby.
With each step the sweet fragrance of bergamot and Glossine from the factory downstairs made me wish for candy.
First we passed Marie Overstreet (the bookkeeper, who would have been a CPA had she been born sixty years later), then Mary Pendegraph (the tall, dignified beauty who speedily processed hundreds of orders each week), then Edith Shanklin (the efficient Addressograph operator who always had a gossip morsel for my mother).
In Momma's office, I must have imagined myself a businesswoman as I played with her hand-cranked adding machine and manual typewriter, sure that my random keystrokes had meaning.
No visit was complete without a trip to the second floor, where Myrtis Griffin and Russell White, the ladies of the factory, still mixed some of the Walker ointments by hand in large vats.
At home, there were more reminders of my famous grandmothers.
In our living room, I learned to read music on A'Lelia Walker's Chickering baby grand.
We ate Thanksgiving turkey on Madam's hand-painted Limoges china and ladled Christmas eggnog -- made with A'Lelia's secret recipe -- from her sterling silver punch bowl.
Our all-black suburb was filled with doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs, musicians and attorneys, many with connections to the Walker Company or the Walker Building.
Our next-door neighbor was the son of F.
DeFrantz, a former trustee of Madam Walker's estate and longtime secretary of Indianapolis's black YMCA.
The son of Freeman B.
Ransom, Madam Walke...

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Comment List (Total:16)

  •     I have not read it yet.
  •     "On Her Own Ground:""The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker" (Lisa Drew Books) is an excellent history book about the mid 1800's to early 1900's and it is regarding Ms. Walker's beginning business of creating and concocting new hair remedies for hair shampooing, hair conditioning, and hair growth which were necessary ingredients for black people's hair in the early days as well as it is necessary for black people's hair today. It is interesting to read about how black hair care got started historically.I was able to write a college paper project using this book and other books and I received an 'A' for the grade on my assignment.
  •     Thank you for all you've done with continuing your family's legacy in this way Ms. A'lelia Bundles. This book in and of itself is an American Treasure, and I don't take for granted the exceeding value I've received by investing in it as part of my library. Your careful, detailed research and wise insights have made an indelible impact on my life.I am so grateful for God's great gift to me through you and your family. I won't go into a lot of detail in this post about just how deeply this book has impacted me, but know that it is very significant. So, I hope to help others take a closer look for their own benefit, also, and am glad for this chance to leave a review.I truly feel that this book should be required reading for every American school child at the middle school level and above. Truthfully, a teacher could easily use an entire semester, or even a whole year, to go through this book in detail with their students and probably still feel they weren't able to fit all of its goodness into the curriculum.I also definitely feel that homeschool families, like our family, would greatly benefit from a book like this because it helps to tie all of the historical pieces together all in one book.Sincerely,Donna Marie Johnson[...]On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker
  •     Why Is it that Madam C.J. Walker isn't found in U.S. history books? Her story is one of endurance, strength, hope, courage, independence and resolve!
  •     It was in very good condition
  •     A most fascinating woman who lead an amazing life. She proved to be an inspiration for women of her generation and many more to come.
  •     Great Read!
  •     Purchased at eight years ago, but could not get my review in due to microsoft problems. Now after reading this three times I am giving back to the author.
  •     This book helped me locate her two husbands. The genealogy information was fabulous
  •     Incredible true story of Madam C.J. Walker, the first black female entrepreneur in US history to build a national business and become a millionaire. Her parents were freed slaves working as sharecroppers in 1876 when she was born. Self-educated and highly ambitious, she built an empire in the cosmetic business, developing products to heal unhealthy scalps and promote hair growth in black women. She trained other black women to sell the products and open salons, lifting an entire generation of poor uneducated black women from lifelong toil as washerwomen, sharecroppers, or domestic servants into successful independent businesswomen. The book is written by Madam Walker's great-great granddaughter, using photos, letters, and other personal documents, in addition to magazine and newspaper accounts of her extraordinary life. Once established as a successful businesswoman, she used her influence to champion civil rights, overturn Jim Crowe laws, and abolish the hateful practice of lynching. This is an inspiring story of what one woman accomplished in the early 1900s, overcoming her gender, her race, and her lack of education.
  •     Fantastic Book!!! I learned so much about Madam C. J. Walker and her contemporaries at the time.
  •     This breaks open so many lies and shines so many truths most don't know about such an ICONIC figure. Great details and info on the times and the period that was lived in.
  •     I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Having never read anything else about Madam Walker, it dispelled many of the popular myths about her life that I had always heard (her products promoted white standards of beauty, etc.) I agree that it is heavy on detail and thus may be thought to be a bit 'slow'. However, the author frequently states that there are few sources to verify information about Madam's life (she was not the typical turn-of-the-century CEO with personal secretaries documenting her every move) and it seems the author was trying to piece together much of her insights based upon context and circumstances, which are thoroughly researched and detailed. Left me wanting to know more about the race leaders of the period, not bored.
  •     I found this to be a literary masterpiece as well as a riveting depiction of what life was like for almost all middle-aged black women in such a dark moment within the body politic of America. This book spoke to the true character of Madam Walker and her life's work which was in many ways selfless, it appears that she lived her life in an attempt at always trying to make life better for those around her.The author A'Lelia Bundles has taken great care and consideration in translating in vibrant detail, the events of Madam Walker's trials and triumphs and her single-minded drive to accomplish what could have been considered as unthinkable at the turn of the century. Anyone who enjoys reading biography will also appreciate the extensive research that has been ascribed to this work, the noticeable attention to detail that has been applied to support, substantiate and sustain the historical record of events is second to none.
  •     What an amazing woman! She showed black women a way to independence & self respect at a time when they had very few options. She became the first female millionaire at a time when it was difficult for man to become a thousandaire! She was not only a woman but also an African-American barely arms length from slavery. I'm surprised more people don't know of her legacy. Way to go Madame CJ Walker!
  •     Wonderful book!

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