Masterful magnate, Madame C. J. Walker, the hair-care-beauty specialist who built the most spectacular residence ever owned by an African American in 1917: Villa Lewaro! Not for a moment was there ever the least doubt for her, as to why she was building such a showplace. Villa Lewaro was a testament as to the ability and value of African American faith and enterprize, and every black in America knew it!
Near her life's end, Madame C. J. Walker averrrd that African Americans were a race that " has watered your soil with its tears and enriched your soil with its blood". She made an impassioned plea that lynching be outlawed, stating :
"I am asking that this government enact a law that will make mob violence and lynching a federal crime, so that our women will not be hanged from trees in Georgia while they give birth to their babes and that our sons, and our fathers, and our brothers may not be chained to the stake in Tennessee and made human torches of, and parts of their bodies dismembered and taken away as souvenirs, and their heads severed from their charred bodies and thrown into the midst of our august bodies while they are in convention assembled."
Racism, branding America's misbegotten black citizens as lazy, criminal and hedonistic, indifferent and willfully ignorant, is the height of irony. For what group, doing all the tasks no one else would do, has worked harder, or longer towards amassing our country's great wealth? Who has better undertaken and mastered all we pursue, with greater brio and originality? Which servants ever more faithfully enabled a sybaritic lifestyle for more exacting masters with discerning tastes for luxury?
1924: Villa Lewaro, Irvington-0n-Hudson, Walker beauty parlor franchise holders' convention outing.
Straight out of bondage some former slaves became doctors, teachers, artists and inventors. Others continued in essential, more menial tasks. Tilling the soil, refining ore, digging ditches, loading cargoes, cooking, nursing, cleaning---everything--- everywhere: We did that. Were we ever well treated or properly paid?
Today, still singled out, we disproportionately pay fines for minor infractions, and in this way and others continue to play a significant role economically. Brilliantly batting, bouncing, driving, slicing, and catching balls, blacks are the unsurpassed gladiators of today's circus. The plaintive songs of black youth, desperate to be loved and admired, exuding bravado and sensuality, wistfully expressing a yearning to be fabulous, to be free, are our national sound track. Yet who, among us, has benefited to the degree of recording studio or ball team owners?
Courtesy of Ms. A'Lelia Bundles/aleliabundles.com
1924: Villa Lewaro, Irvington-0n-Hudson, Walker beauty parlor franchise holders' convention outing.
Nothing is as unbearably frightening as blackness. So the controlling surveillance of black people, keeps employed mostly white forces of police and prison guards. From New Orleans to Detroit and beyond, blacks inhabit and give value to substandard, otherwise valueless housing. Then comes the time, when our tax dollars contribute to policies that subsidise gentrification and our dispatch. There is no more dependable TV audience than African Americans. Blacks also prodigiously consume quantities of unhealthily food and drink. Hindered, hobbled, held back, kept perpetually poor and uneducated, all we do makes others rich.
Yet for all we have done, for all we do, unrelentingly we are our nation's scapegoat. If blacks do not quite absolve the ineptitude of the man behind the curtain, reliably, African Americans are a wonderful distraction. Much as in Hitler's Germany, when Jews were systematically persecuted and denied participation in public life, ever-present ridicule and debasement in the media, literature, art, and texts, successfully served to dehumanize African Americas. Blacks were demonized to an extent that made oppression and unjustly punitive sanction accepted, as the distasteful, for some, but essential means of maintaining public order, as indeed, the means of preserving the norms of civilization.
Nowadays we face a subtler, more insidious sort of prejudice. But as the Doll Test shows, to be black in America, is to be dismissed as stupid, ugly and scary, is to be despised. My friend Adam Gopnik asserts further, that even in so enlightened a place as New York City, most comfortably-off, "Middle Class people are willing to dispense with a certain amount of civil liberty, in order to feel safe..."
© "Yo Mama's Pieta, 1996" by Renee Cox, is just one of the arresting still images that illuminate Thomas Allen Harris’s documentary, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People
In the past, political leaders such as William Edward Burghardt Du Bois and academicians like Alaine Locke, helped to stage-manage the "Negro Renaissance". A skillful propaganda campaign of the 1920's, featuring African American cultural accomplishment via dancers, painters, actors, singers, writers and musicians, it was meant to show that blacks merited equality too. 'Race women,' like Madam C. J. Walker and her daughter A'Lelia, who dubbed as the Joy Goddess of Harlem, became a great personality of this period, also worked and lived to affirm the worthiness of African Americans.
Because such efforts sadly remain necessary for black well-being and fulfilment, for black survival, it's fortunate that young intellectuals, film makers and others are at work now to challenge black defamation.
Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, is Thomas Allen Harris’s extraordinary new documentary. Produced in collaboration with pioneering photography historian Debora Willis, it is a unique examination of the way black photographers selected and represented their subjects in a way that let them use cameras as a powerful weapon to fight back against alienating stereotypes.
Thomas Allen Harris’s documentary, Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, is a compelling examination of the way black photographers effected social change with prideful images
Blackbird, a new feature film made by Harlem's Patrik-Ian Polk, similarly explores how hate and alienation, particularly when internalized, can be terribly destructive. Polk's timely drama centers on a talented teenage singer troubled by adolescent conflict.
Even in a hip spot like Harlem, messages of intolerance and contempt for difference thrive. Uncontested they endanger our children, poisoning the psyche of kids who haven't even discovered who they are, with fear and self -loathing. Worse, they feed the insecurity of some and lead to harm, like the senseless murder of lovely Islan Nettles last year, that took place in broad daylight, in front of a police station.
His faith, family, and friends all dictate that he adhere to a conventional identity acceptable in the sleepy Southern Baptist hamlet where he lives. Like the rest of us, he has to learn to accept and love himself. Turmoil only comes to an end once he stops allowing others to determine who that is.
Begiling and beautiful newcomer Julian Walker, starring in Blackbird with Isaiah Washington and Mo'Nique, manifest the full diversity that enriches America.
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time...James Baldwin 1963
May 25, 1911: Laura Nelson and her 15-year-old son L.D. Nelson were lynched in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma. In their day, they were Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
Eager to have lynching outlawed, just prior to her death, Madame C. J. Walker pledged $5,000, then the cost of a Cadillac touring car, to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's anti-lynching fund. The Tuskegee Institute has recorded 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites being lynched between 1882 and 1968
Ever-present danger of degradation, humiliation and physical harm, has long constrained the black condition. Much as in Hitler's Germany, when Jews and others were systematically persecuted and denied participation in public life, ridicule and debasement; in the media, literature, art and texts, successfully served to dehumanize African Americas to an extent that made oppression and unjust punishment, accepted as the distasteful, to some, but essential means of maintaining public order, and indeed, the norms of civilization.
A century ago Madame Walker and others faced a world in which black advancment was threatening to many. African American aspiration and assimilation were caricatured as unknowing impudence.
Today, some contend that racism has evolved, that social strife is based merely on class instead of the color of one's skin. However, as always, with a majority of African Americans experiencing disparate and inferior outcomes compared to whites, class-based biases are a distracting distinction, without difference. Too many examples of discrimination and ill-treatment toward blacks, irrespective of their education, income or attainment, exist to suggest that even now, class trumps race. Indeed, much as with charter schools, where the chosen few are better educated at the expense of the most poorly prepared-many, black success is in fact, often transformed into an indictment. Based on the evidence of the few who beat the odds, those who fail, are frequently condemned as indolent.
1902: Aida Ovweton Walker's anthem of upward mobility was savagely parodied as, "A Colored Declaration of Blue Blood"
As exemplified by Madame C. J Walker, or the trendsetting Broadway artist, Aida Overton Walker, (no relation), who preformed before white socialites, British royalty and aristocrats as well as large and appreciative black audiences, Negro High Society, has always constituted a meritocracy. Ancestry per-se, apart from white ancestry, was never accorded the same importance attached to education and enterprise.
Why is it that a man, just as soon as he gets enough money, builds a house much bigger than he needs? I built a house at Akron many times larger than I have the least use for; I have another house at Miami Beach, which is also much larger than I need. I suppose that before I die I shall buy or build other houses which also will be larger than I need. I do not know why I do it – the houses are only a burden.…all my friends who have acquired wealth have big houses…Even so unostentatious a man as Henry Ford has a much bigger house at Dearborn than he really cares about. I wonder why it is …In a few cases, a big house is built just as an advertisement that one is rich; sometimes a big house is built so great entertainments may be given. But in most cases, and especially with men who have earned their own money, the house is just built and when it is done, no one quite knows why it was started…Henry Ford 1926, Men and Rubber; The Story of Business
One can usually get a pretty good result approaching history as one might an over-sized portrait by Pearlstein or a pointillist painting by Seurat. Only finding the proper perspective does apparent chaos coalesce into discernible order. This is how two observations, from different eras, written by two quite different men, converge to perfectly explain a most improbable house.
Circa 1789: West Front of Mount Vernon, by Edward Savage.
Distinguishing historical substance from symbolism is imperative. Taught that Washigton was incapable of telling a lie, that he valued liberty above all else, the life of slaves at his vast plantation, with meager rations, communal accomodation and twelve hour workdays, reveals a harsher truth.
For those who are un-knowledgeable, a cursory glance mightn't leave much of a lasting impression. For many examining the surface of things, the constituent elements, making an aesthetic evaluation, their final conclusion might be that they'd seen a conventionally 'nice' mansion, in well-kept, but not extensive grounds. They might determine that the house Sara Breedlove McWilliams Walker built at Irvington, New York, "Villa Lewaro", as nice as it is, is hardly exceptional.
But from a better-informed vantage point, the Villa Lewaro, named a National Treasure this year by the National Trust, the grandest house ever built by an African American before 1960, is something else again. Howsoever 'modest' it might appear materially, in relation to grandiose abodes built by whites; placed in context, contrasted with the isolated and unequal conditions characteristic of African American life, it is as magical as the Summer Palace of China's dowager empress, as incomparable as the court of the Sun King at Versailles.
1858: Mount Vernon by Ferdinand Richardt
By repeatedly expanding his father's existing one-and-a-half-storey farmhouse, over several decades, Washington created a structure with 11,028 square feet ! Mount Vernon dwarfed most dwellings in late 18th-century Virginia, which typically comprised one to two rooms, ranging in size from roughly 200 to 1200 square feet.
© 2004: Dinner at Mount Vernon by Pawinee McEntire
Following George Washington's death, on the eve of a new century in 1799, his beloved Mount Vernon Plantation passed on to a succession of less capable heirs overwhelmed by its costly upkeep. Martha Washington's awareness had caused her to free slaves, otherwise freed by provision of her husband's will, upon her death.
Increasingly Mount Vernon fell into disrepair after a failed attempt by Washington’s great-great nephew John A. Washington to sell it to the United States or the Virginia Commonwealth in 1853.
This prompted Ann Pamela Cunningham to establish the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which began an unprecedented national campaign to purchase Mount Vernon and preserve it as a talisman of American history. This collaborative effort of patriotic and patrician white women from the north and the south alike, formed the nexus of the United State's historic preservation movement.
Every attempt was made to sanitize the memory of our foremost founding father. Acting to transform a bastion of white America's self-entitled wealth-through-oppression, into an icon of liberty, destroying the old slave quarters became the first imperative item of business before Mount Vernon was opened to the public as a shrine.
Building one of the largest houses in Virginia, among the most commodious in the new nation, Washington had hardly sought to outdo the Dukes of Marlborough, whose house was one of the largest and grandiose in England. The Baroque masterpiece boast 175,000 square feet!
Monticello, 1769-1809 by Thomas Jefferson
Introducing the first dome on an American house, counting the cellars, Monticello has around 11,000 square feet of living space.
Ickworth, 1795-1830 designed by Mario Aspurcci, executed by Francis and Joseph Sandy, laocated at Horringer, Burry St. Edmunds. Suffolk, England
Not completed until well after the death of its builder, connoisseur collector Frederick Hervey, Bishop of Derry and 4th Earl of Bristol, in 1803, Ickworth, with its central rotunda and curving wings, was truly a temple of art. Monticello, by contrast, is not even as large as the servants' quarters here.
As an historian and a preservationist, one learns a good deal about where people stand, by looking at where, and how they live. A visit to historic Addisleigh Park, in Saint Albans, Queens, is a revelation. Billed as the 'suburban Sugar Hill,' in reference to black Harlem's elite address of the 1930's and 1940's, the spic-and-span community offers neat mock-Tudor and Colonial Revival houses surrounded by supremely manicured lawns. Initially met by restrictive deed covenants that prohibited the sale of property to blacks, after 1945 the enclave rapidly became home to a score of celebrities, from Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald, to Jackie Robinson, Count Basie and Joe Louis. A few houses boast double lots. Four or five even had swimming pools and tennis courts. But at best, the biggest houses here had about two-thousand square feet of space for living large.
"Hyde Park", 1895, by McKim, Mead & White
Just as America's founding fathers wasted little time attempting to emulate far richer nobles in England, neither did Madame Walker seek to 'compete' with the splendor of the nearby Frederick William Vanderbilt estate, or the even closer and equally palatial Rockefeller place, at Tarrytown. With fifty rooms comprising 44,000 square feet and two hundred acres, "Hyde Park" was one of the Hudson Valley's most notable showplaces.
Meanwhile, out in Beverly Hills, California, the largest houses of the most celebrated white stars, averaged around ten-thousand square feet. Accessing the extent of success accorded the United State's most acclaimed African Americans, it's useful to keep such observations of dramatic inequality in mind.
Despised and rejected enough, assailed by sorrows and grief, a little more than a century ago, Madame C. J. Walker surly appreciated the notion of "black rage". But as with some other subjects of outstanding success stories, she determined early on to subdue and submerge fury, translating any inner anger into a passion to succeed.
Whether with architecture or through prodigious philanthropy to black causes, paying as much attention to projecting as regal an image as any sovereign, Madam Walker utilized a saga as poignant and compelling as Lincoln's trek from a back-woods cabin to the White House. This was how she distinguished her brand from every other similar product on the market. As this ad shows, for Walker, the concept that beauty and success were synonymous was espoused as an alluring doctrine of faith.
Lincoln Family log cabin, Sinking Spring Farm, Hodgenville, Kentucky
This is reported to be the place where Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Seven US presidents were born in log cabins, including Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and James Buchanan. Ironically, Whig contender William Henry Harrison, the son of a Virginia planter, hardly born in a log cabin, nonetheless cynically appropriated this meager type of habitation as a symbol that he was a man of the people. Other candidates followed Harrison's example, making the idea of a log cabin, a background of modest means, a childhood spent overcoming the adversity of hard times, a recurring and classic campaign theme.
Restored and featured in innumerable pieces since 1991, Villa Lewaro is ever so slowly gaining recognition as a singular monument to the American dream. When my story appeared, even after Stanley Nelson's titanic Walker documentary, Two Dollars and a Dream appeared, this was not so.
Designed by Ventner Woodson Tandy, New York State's second registered black architect after his partner George Washinton Foster, the neo-Palladian-style structure was built at Irvington-on-Hudson between 1916 and 1918. Close at hand are other larger historic houses on more ample acreage, that were built for famed whites. Several of these, writer Washington Irving's "Sunnyside", feared robber-baron Jay Gould's "Lyndhurst," and John D. Rockefeller's "Kykuit", are all operated as house museums and opened to the public. 'Why ought not this to be the case at Madame Walker's house?', I mused after my first visit to Villa Lewaro in 1988.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, America's bicentennial anniversary year, Villa Lewaro's then-owners, Ingo and Darlene Appel, greeted me warmly and welcomed my interest. They had actually started exploring ways to make Madame Walker's house into a museum. As a result they'd engaged with several groups, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Madame C. J. Walker Committee of Westchester County.
Courtesy of Ms. A'Lelia Bundles/aleliabundles.com
The Breedlove Family cabin at Delta, Louisiana
A lowly log cabin has been a potent symbol of heroically-humble origins in US literature and politics since the early 19th century.
"I think the time is right now," they were told by Steve Pruitt. A government relations adviser, he was speaking on behalf of Representative Cardiss Collins of Illinois, who would introduce a bill calling for Federal funds to purchase and safeguard Villa Lewaro. Historian Alex Haley of Roots fame, Oprah Winfrey and many others concurred.
"Cedar Hill", Anacostia, Southeast Washington, D.C.
Statesman Frederic Douglas lived in this respectable dwelling with his family from 1878 until his death in 1895. It's hardly a surprise learning that the largest contributor to save "Cedar Hill" prior to it being opened to the public, came from Madame Walker
I agreed too with this splendid idea. So I was elated when a new 'Diversity Scholars' fund initiated by the Trust, picked up the tab for my airfare and hotel, enabling me to attend the nation's premiere preservation organization's annual conference at Miami Beach that autumn. This opportunity would give me a chance to ask Richard Moe, the Trust's new director, what he thought about the amorphous and tentative plans to make Madame Walker's house into a museum.
Alonzo Herndon residence, 587 University Pl., NW, Atlanta, Georgia, 1910
A former slave raised in a sharecropping family, after the Civil War Herndon owned and managed a string of barbershops. Investing profits into real estate, becoming the largest black property owner in Atlanta by 1900, Herndon next founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, to become Atlanta's first black millionaire. Maintained as a museum, W. E. B. Dubois praised Herndon’s Georgian Revival house as, ‘the finest residence in America owned by a Negro.’ At the time of this statement, naturally, Villa Lewaro had not yet been built.
"Cultural Diversity" was the conference's theme. So why had it opened on Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement? The seductive local ought to have further given me pause. Why meet at Miami Beach? After local white politicians ignored recently freed Nelson Mandela durring his seven-city tour of America, black civil rights activists instituted a 1,000-day boycott against the local convention and tourism business. African American groups refusing to hold meetings or to book group tours in the region, meant an eventual loss of more than $50 million.
Still I stayed, undeterred, and had my chance to question Mr. Moe. Perfectly pleasant, he answered politely,
"Under my tenure, I intend to lead the trust out of the business of collecting and opening the houses of the rich. We're past that..."
Protests that it might be a fine idea, once the Trust saved and showed at least one rich person's house that had not been built by a white Christian man, were to no avail.
Number 1048 Simpson Road, (now Joseph E. Boone Boulevard ), Atlanta, Georgia, erected 1926 by the African American Aiken & Faulkner Construction Co. located on Auburn Avenue: demolished 1962
In 1926, the year he built this house, Theodore "Tiger" Flowers, famed as the "Fighting Georgia Deacon" became the first black boxer to win the world middleweight championship. Less than a year later, cheated out of his title in a rigged bout, in November 1927, at thirty-two, Flowers died. He died in Harlem, undergoing surgery to remove scar tissue above his eye. His magnificent house, featuring a plaster bas relief of a tiger's head above the drawing room door, was demolished in 1962
I'm in agreement with the stellar biographer Jean Strouse; no fabricated story can ever match history for drama, the unexpected, or valuable instruction. So I'm still convinced that Richard Moe's response to being cornered and confronted with a proposal that the Trust find some way to acquire Villa Lewaro, was shortsighted, a missed opportunity. For what an inspirational and encouraging tale can be told, examining the house that Madame Walker built.
Stylishly of its time, even the house architect-to-the-stars, Paul Revere Williams built for himself in Los Angeles, in 1951, fails to approach the opulence of Villa Lewaro
"Villa Lewaro was", A'Lelia Bundles says, "a symbol of what my great-great-grandmother termed 'the wealth of business possibilities within the race to point to young Negroes what a lone woman can accomplish and to inspire them to do big things.' "
Ms. Bundles's portrait of her ancestor is titled On Her Own Ground, The Life and Times of Madame C. J. Walker. Published by Scribner's in 2001, it quickly became a national bestseller. How superbly A'Lelia Bundles un-spools the saga. How affectingly it resonates, as part primer, part cautionary tale. What is it that makes it so moving and so timeless? This is a question that's answered easily enough. For all the nuanced specificity of Madame Walker's distinctly American life, an incessant journey seeking truth and meaning, bravely facing defeat and boldly tracking down triumph: her story is universal, too.
Adamantly a 'race woman', Madam Walker was hardly deterred by condescension; neither from whites who disdained her very presence, nor from elitist blacks who felt past poverty and deficient education made her unacceptable. In America, wealth seldom hurts. But Madame Walker's assets exceeded wealth alone. This was why Booker T. Washington, who initially tried to thwart her ambitions as a civil rights activist, had ended by becoming her friend.
Supporting the burgeoning National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's agenda of empowerment, eager to benefit from the growing circulation of Du Bois' The Crisis, Walker signed on as one of the magazine's earliest advertisers, advising potential customers in a half-page ad: "Your hair will not be beautiful unless it is healthy."In 1917, following yet another unwarranted assault of blacks by whites, this time in East St. Louis, Walker and James Weldon Johnson were in a small delegation sent to the White House, pleading with President Woodrow Wilson to make lynching a federal crime.
"We should protest until the American sense of justice is so aroused that such affairs as the East St. Louis riot be forever impossible,"
On July 28, heeding Walker's exhortation, the N.A.A.C.P. staged a "Silent Protest" parade in New York that attracted 8,000 participants marching in silence to the staccato tattoo of drums up Fifth Avenue, arm-in-arm, dressed in white, they did then, what people in Freguson, Missouri are still doing today.
The protest was organized by the Rev. Dr. Hutchens Chew Bishop; the rector of St. Philip's Episcopal Church. In the same year the NAACP was founded, St. Philip's vestry, made up of some of the city's most distinguished African American residents, had sold their church building on West 25th Street.
By 1911 they completed a new Neo-Gothic-style church, at 214 West 134th Street, also designed by architect Vertner Woodson Tandy, in partnership with Cooper Union-trained, George Washington Foster the first African American architect lisenced in New York State . At the same time, eager to participate in the creation of a black Mecca at Harlem, St. Philip's acquired ten six-storey new-law tenement buildings at
107-145 West 135th Street. Costing $640,000, these apartments where filled with white occupants, who were evicted to make way for blacks. This action was envisioned as an investment that would generously endow the 'nation's richest colored church' for generations to come. By far the transaction was the most extensive, involving black capital, up until that date. Currently valued at 20 times their appraisal in 1910, these structures now belong to the Rose Smart Growth Investment Fund, which plans to make them both environmentally friendly and affordable.
Confined to her bed due to failing health, on May 5, 1919, a critically-ill Madame Walker sent word to the NAACP's Anti-Lynching Conference at Carnegie Hall:
She would pledge $5,000 to the group's efforts to combat mob violence. This largest pledge the Association had ever received created a sensation. Madame Walker's announcement electrified 2,500 assembled delegates, inspiring over the course of the convention, primarily from black delegates, $4,400 in additional pledges. Three weeks later, on May 25, says her great-great-granddaughter and biographer A'Lelia Bundles, Walker died at her imposing estate at Irvington-on-Hudson, Villa Lewaro.
Reading of her earlier travels as a sales person, to Cuba, the Caribbean, and in Central America, one marvels at Madame Walker's stamina. Attempting to follow her cross-country progress from Mississippi to St. Louis, to Denver, to Pittsburgh, before settling and building her factory in Indianapolis, Indiana, all in the space of less than a decade, is downright exhausting. Walker's Vegetable Shampoo, Wonderful Hair Grower, Temple Grower, Glossine and a prepairation called Tan-Off, the inevitable skin bleach, were produced at the Mme. C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company factory in Indianapolis. In response to orders cases were shipped for distribution by a wide network of sales agents and beauticians. The arrangement worked wonderfully for Madame Walker. Reportedly, she was happy living in Indianapolis as well. Why then, did she leave?
How adroit, for Vertner Tandy, Madame C. J. Walker and her daughter, A'Lelia Walker Robinson, to do just what whites would have maintained they were incapable of. Employing what a century ago was regarded as the epitome of "good taste", exercising disciplined restraint, they used Charlston's renowned Nathaniel Russell house and Boston buildings built from the 1790's through the early 1800's as the model for their hybrid Walker townhouse-salon, that combined home and business long before it was ever considered at Bergdorf-Goodman or Elizabeth Arden.
Ambition and opportunity were half of what had moved her. Her only child, Lelia was the other part of the equation. The woman who became famous as A'Lelia Walker always came first where her mother was concerned. Frequently she was cross about her extravagance, yet, repeatedly, Madame Walker indulged her child. She was also ambitious for Lelia, for whom she desired to provide all that she had missed, including Paris hats, travel abroad and an education. That rarest of rarities, a Negro heiress, her mother was right to fear that some would attempt to take advantage of her daughter. However, her daughter also made Madame Walker proud. Neither possessing the requisite fragility, fair skin, or delicate features to be regarded as a beauty in her day, tall and statuesquely handsome Lelia always made an impressive, even a striking appearance. Moreover, true intelligence and common sense underlay Lelia's impulsiveness and occasional self-indulgence. Always, not unlike Sportin Life in Porgey n' Bess, the bright lights and good times of the big city beckoned alluringly to Madame Walker's child. In 1913 she had bade her mother to relocate with her to the new Negro 'promised land' of Harlem, a quarter with as many dance halls, cabarets and salons as churches, hundreds! The women attending church and bars mightn't be the same women, but Lelia pointed out, that all hundred thousand wanted to get their hair done before they went there.
So off to Harlem they ventured. According to historian Christopher Gray, in 1913 and 1915 Madam Walker bought two old-style brownstones at 108 and 110 West 136th Street. In 1915 she filed plans to completely rebuild the two houses as one and give them a new front, in the same way that many midtown and East Side rowhouses were being reconstructed
On the second floor, the main level of Madame Walker's residence. drawings show a double-size drawing room stretching the full width of the building. Three "chambres" occupied the remainder of the second floor. A billiard room and other additional bedrooms were found on the third floor.
When the Walkers next decided to build a country house, neighbors were horrified, first seeing 'the dressed up Negresses with their comically aloof airs in a chauffeur-driven automobile' pull up. But her white lawyer had secured the deed for Villa Lewaro's acreage, fair and square!
By combining her home and business in two converted brownstone houses, made into a single building, Tandy maximized the grandeur of both.
Once A'Lelia Walker moved to a one-bedroom apartment at 80 Edgecombe Avenue, she transformed her mother's grand abode into a deluxe catering hall, the storied Dark Tower, where the best parties were always the ones she gave.
The Reception Room of the Walker Beauty Parlor, College and Spa.
Two photographs staged to show styling, care and wig making techniques in the Walker's Lelia Beauty College manual.
In reality, the Walker's clients were groomed and styled in private, curtained booths. While awaiting an appointment, one could take tea or play a hand of cards.
Drawing room, Madame C. J. Walker residence
For bedrooms and other lesser interiors, architect Vertner Tandy economically retained the configuration and old-fashioned Victorian woodwork original to the two 1890's row houses combined to form the Walker townhouse-beauty salon. However, for this space and other formal reception rooms, every component was newly built.
A grand piano, an 18th-century French tapestry fragment and an allegorical statuette were among the elegant elements of decorators, Righter & Kolb's chic decor.
Madame Walker and her daughter so admired this depiction of Terpsichore, the muse of dance and chorus, that it was moved and given place of honor in Villa Lewaro's white and gold music room
“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground...”
1926: A'Lelia Walker is shown in a cassock's uniform she purchased at Wanamaker's in New York, for a costume party at Webster Hall
Even Madame Walker's heiress daughter was adversely impacted by the Great Crash in 1929. Forthwith, 108-110 was leased to the city, for a much needed Harlem health clinic. A year later, it was sold outright. By 1947, the one-time home to the rollicking Dark Tower, was no more. It was replaced by a public library branch, ironically, named for A'Lelia Walker's friend, poet Countee Cullen.
How much, one dares to wonder, might it take to restore, on the outside, Vertner Tandy's elegant architecture of such rare refinement?
The trek from Reconstruction, to the dawning of the "The New Negro" and the "Negro Renaissance," had been one long sojourn, from far away. One sometimes wonders, having been treated as bestial, or as child-like property, just how did former slaves and their young, learn to live and think and thrive in the world; to be human again, like our ancestors? Most of all one is filled with wonderment, that so many who started as field hands, accomplished so much.
Sara Breedlove, born December 23, 1867, to sharecroppers, Owen and Minerva Breedlove, had a youth filled with hardship. Her girlhood home, a ramshackle cabin at Delta, Louisiana, lay just across the Mississippi from the bustling port of Vicksburg. Her parents and siblings were slaves on Madison Parish Plantation owned by Robert W. Burney. Alone among them, her parents, sister and five brothers, Sara was born 'free'. Orphaned at the age of six, her sister and her sister's husband, Willie Powell, had taken her in. At age fourteen, she married a much older Moses McWilliams, a move motivated in part, out of eagerness to escape the cruelty of her wicked brother-in-law. Her daughter Lelia McWilliams (A'Lelia Walker) was born three years later. Only twenty, Mrs. McWilliams' husband died, prompting a move to St. Louis where three of her brothers lived, working as barbers. What limitations women endured. Black women, like black gay men, constituted a 'double negative.' The Widow McWilliams' brothers were barbers, but she could only manage to obtain employment as a lowly washer woman. Yet it was in this capacity, as a laundress, that she was exposed to luxury at an early age: her arduous work took her inside some of the South's most stately houses.
Edward T. Bedford estate, by Montrose Morris, 1910, Green's Farms, Connecticut.
Mr. Bedford was president of Corn Products Refining Co. and a director of the Standard Oil Co.
Long after her escape from poverty, Madame Walker enthralled audiences with her recollections of perseverance and faith. She would recall how she had asked herself while laboring over a washtub: "What are you going to do when your back gets stiff and you are old? Who is going to look after your little girl?"
She said the answer came in a dream in which a secret hair-conditioning formula was revealed to her. This had all occurred with the World's Fair as a backdrop, circa 1905. Not long after she became a sales agent, offering products on commission for African American hair care entrepreneur Annie Malone, she also remarried. Charles Joseph Walker was a Denver newspaper advertising salesman.
Walker wasted no time in persuading his wife to go into business for herself. Paralleling Helena Rubinstein, as Madam C. J. Walker, she trained other women, working for her, to become "beauty culturists" and as she had done, and to master the art of selling. Traveling throughout the southern and eastern United States with her husband, Madame Walker rapidly expanded her business. Once Walker became complacent and self-satisfied, his wife reluctantly left him behind.
Retaining the name her hard work had made into a brand, Madame Walker was inspired by the model of the National Association of Colored Women, to organize her sales agents into local and state clubs. By 1917 she convened her first annual conference of the Madam Walker Beauty Culturists in Philadelphia.
Edward T. Bedford estate, by Montrose Morris, 1910, Green's Farms, Connecticut.
Especially impressed by two nearly identical country houses near New York, Tandy adopted their design with only slight modifications. At Villa Lewaro, for instance, he used the simpler Ionic order in place of Composite columns with fluted shafts
Already providing black women with something difficult to imagine, interesting work with good pay, that allowed creativity, and an alternative to the limited options of nursing, prostitution, teaching or domestic service, she now gave more. Prizes were awarded, but not only to the women who had sold the most products and brought in the most new sales agents. Those who had contributed the most to charity and to their communities, were rewarded as well.
Walker's business instincts were brilliant: she realized that black women, while welcoming a way to adapt their hair to the prevailing fashion, were nevertheless proud of their racial identity. She always advertised her hair straightener as a "hair grower." Through Walker College, she offered opportunities that not only increased company profits but trained hundreds of women to take control of their destinies.
Edward T. Bedford estate, by Montrose Morris, 1910, Green's Farms, Connecticut.
Villa Rosa Terrace, S. Z. Puli residence by Brown & Von Beren, 1914, Woodmont, Conneticut
Italian immigrant Sylvester Zefferino Poli a theater magnate associated with William Fox in the Lowe’s-Poli theater chain, started out sculpting wax figures for sensational and historic displays. Named for his wife, their waterfront estate consisted of the main house, and ten cottages deeded to five children
How slightly Vertner Tandy seems to have bothered to differentiate Villa Lewaro from the two nearby sources of inspiration he found illustraited in architectural journals
Circa 1928: Villa Lewaro, the Irvington, New York 20,000 square feet country house of Madam C. J. Walker, from 1918 to 1919. Walker is believed to be the first African American woman self-made millionaire, through the manufacture and sale of hair care and beauty products, made expressly for blacks.
Constructed just after the Walker townhouse, between 1916 and 1918, Madam Walker's country retreat cost an estimated $250,000, a vast fortune at a time when the average wage for a black New Yorker was only $800 yearly. The name Villa Lewaro was coined by a visitor and friend, Enrico Caruso. It was derived from the first two letters of each word in Lelia Walker Robinson's name.
Were one Jewish a century ago, chances are that attempting to move into a neighborhood that was not already substantially Jewish, would meet with resistance. Blacks were more fortunate, in one tiny paticular. For Negros, there was little fear of restrictive deed covenants, that prohibited the sell, or even a future sell, sometimes into perpetuity, to a Colored person. The common supposition was that Negros could not afford to buy property in nice neighborhoods. For all practical purposes, this was all too true.
Unlike most mansions on the Hudson, which sit like castles on the Rhine, Villa Lewaro is best seen from Broadway, the main street of Irvington. A two-storey semicircular portico dominates the street facade.
In the 1980's the huge trees that first attracted Mme. Walker saved the house from a developer who wanted to erect condominiums. A tree ordinance protected the property.
Madame C. J. Walker's bid to live in Irvington-On-Hudson, near Livingstons, Goulds and Rockefellers, was in fact her second try at locating where the action was, in the very midst of the country's most affluent whites. In the New York Times, March 25, 1916, it was announced that Mrs. C. J. Walker, through Samuel A. Singerman, her lawyer, had acquired "Bishop's Court". The price was given as around $40,000. Vertner Tandy filed plans for a house not so different from Villa Lewaro, but missing the graceful semi-elliptical portico. Madame Walker's entre into sacred precincts had commenced. Or had it?
Courtesy Historic New England/ Photo by David Boh
Like the would-be buyer, the seller of the "old English design, brick and timber house", set on a plot, 200 X 300 feet, was also black. Most unusual! His house was located at the North East corner of State and North Pine Streets, in an exclusive section of Flushing. Born in Antigua, in 1843, the Right Rev. William B. Derrick had a white Scottish father and a black Caribbean-born mother. According to his Times obituary, in 1913, educated in England, this African, Methodist, Episcopal, Zion prelate's jurisdiction included the West Indies, South America and the Islands Beyond the Seas. For this reason the renowned preacher was much involved outside the US, in setting up churches in Panama for blacks working to dig the canal, for instance. Having rushed back from Britain to enlist in the Civil War, becoming sought after as a king-maker, able to reliably rally Negros to vote for Republicans, he was rather busy at home as well. "Bishop's Court" was his reward for a well-lived, sober life. White residents had certainly not welcomed his arrival around 1896. They had felt powerless indeed to prevent it. Over the years his sedate style of living had caused them to thank providence that it had not been worse. They were however, not about to take the same risk to property and propriety twice. All were determined, the Negro, former wash woman, from the west, was not to be admitted to their community. A reprise almost occurred at Irvington. But this time, Tandy did not produce drawing until after the deed was recorded.
Following his partner George W. Foster, Tandy would become New York’s second black registered architect, and the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. Apart from Madame Walker's two houses, among many alterations to existing buildings, he designed St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. Sadly, among his oeuvre, he only planned about ten additional houses, most of which have been greatly changed or destroyed.
Vertner Tandy died in 1949 at age 64.
Villa Lewaro, which Madame Walker built as a country house, was Tandy's "masterpiece," said Roberta Washington, a Harlem architect, who discusses his career in depth in her forthcoming history of African American architects who practiced in New York State over the past century. "Yes, his work is derivative. He copied other people. Most designers did and do. But, just look at that novel way he introduced a light well, for the basement kitchen. The big terrace completely obscures the servants' area downstairs, giving them lots of light and air and privacy at the same time. That's good design in my book."
Courtesy of Ms. A'Lelia Bundles/aleliabundles.com
The eclectic decor of Villa Lewaro was devised by Frank R. Smith, who apearently was employed by Righter & Kolb. The formal reception rooms, which open into one another along a straight line, form a series of contrasting areas. Neo-Renaissance in style, the great hall-living room and the barrel-vaulted dining room originally had furniture custom-made by Brekey & Gay. The Louis XV-style music room still retains an Estey player-pipe organ with speaker ducts, which let music be heard throughout the house.
Thirty other rooms included accommodations for eight servants and as many guests, a nursery, billiard room, gymnasium and laundry.
As for so many other builders of pleasure domes, it was all over rather quickly. Madame Walker died in 1919. Her daughter found the role of Lady Bountiful somewhat confining. Villa Lewaro was for her a less stimulating environment than Harlem.
But when duty beckoned, the house was the backdrop for a party: Lady Mountbatten, Richard Bruce Nugent, Walker beauty-parlor girls and Pullman porters were all welcomed. In the 1920's A'Lelia Walker also let the house be used as a location for the black silent-movie classic "Secret Sorrow."
Even prior to A'Lelia Walker-Robinson-Wilson-Kennedy's death in 1931, an effort had been made to 'unload' costly-to-maintain Villa Lewaro. Two much-discussed auctions of its contents were staged. In December of 1930, veteran dealer Benjamin Wise, with his force of black salesmen, conducted the first. It lasted three days. "White Buyers Strip Villa", screamed Harlem's Amsterdam New, newspaper, expressing something of the loss and heartache ordinary blacks felt, learning the news. A'Lelia's ormolu-mounted grand piano, Persian carpets, a French tapestry, a large spinach jade table lamp, beautifully bound sets of books, from a deluxe bible to the multi-volume memoirs of Casanova----all went under the hammer and were knocked down for a paltry $58,500! In light of prices payed to obtain these precious objects, just a little more than a decade earlier, this indeed represented pennies on the dollar. But, all things considered, this was not such a bad result. Things went to hell in America after the debacle of November, 1929. Art and antique collectors once worth hundreds of millions, men like William Randolph Hearst or Clarence McKay, were forced to dispose of their treasures at department stores, for what really amounted to bargain basement prices, as well. In Newport, the ultra exclusive seaside summer resort, things were no better than at Irvington. "Marble House"was the palatial 'cottage' of Mrs. Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont, who as Mrs. Willie K. Vanderbilt had been the first social leader to divorce and remarry without sanction. Her 'cottage' is said to have cost $11,000,000.00 at the start of the 1890's! This is unlikely inasmuch as, well before the crash Mrs. Belmont challenged a property tax assessment based on a nearly $700,000.00 valuation. Indignant, she countered that around $400,000.00 was closer to the true value. Naturally, making this claim, she did not include the sumptuous contents of Marble House. Yet when she sold the four acre property in 1932, the house, lock, stock and barrel went for just a little over $100,000.00.
Courtesy of Half Pudding, Half Sause
Even so, at Villa Lewaro, sufficient unsold remnants from six china dinner service, several sets of glassware, and other furnishings remained unsold to form the basis of a collection of Walker heirlooms that bring these figures to life, more vividly than anything that one could write.
Once A'Lelia passed away, Villa Lewaro was bequeathed to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which sold it in 1932 to the Annie E. Poth home for aged members of the Companions of the Forest in America, a fraternal organization. Under their care it remained largely intact for the next 50 years.
Circa 1920: Righter & Kolb were so exacting, that in Villa Lewaro's music room even the Victrola phonograph had its cabinet customised. It was painted with pastoral scenes in keeping with the rooms Watteauesque Lunettes and Louis XV sensibility. In 1930 it brought around $46.00
A nef was an extravagant ship-shaped table ornament centerpiece and container used in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance. Quite rarely made of glass, usually they were elaborately fashioned from silver, silver-gilt, or gold and often enameled and jewel-encrusted, Nefs were placed in front of the most important person at table as a mark of their status. When not just used for decoration, it might hold salt, spices, napkins, cutlery or even wine. For this reason some nefs had wheels to allow them to be rolled from one end of the table to the other, but most had legs or stood on pedestals.
Posed, poised and privileged alongside a graceful bureau plat, raffinée A’Lelia Walker, gowned in dark lace, looks every bit the pampered heiress. Most extraordinary among the accoutrements lending this scene such élan, is her repousse silver nef, a fantastic object with billowing sails and a large crew of minute hands, each exquisitely differentiated from the next. Most likely a late 19th-century copy of a late 16th-century example made in Augsburg, even these command $20,000.00 and more nowadays
Madame Walker initiated a dynasty, ambitious, socially conscious, bright, black and proud. A'Lelia Bundles part in the ensuing line of succession has been varied; filled with recognition and rewards for a groundbreaking career as a TV journalist, and that's quite wonderful. Work for which she will most be remembered is quite different. One rarely grows rich writing history. But doing what A'Lelia has done and continues to do, with unstinting care and craft, one is granted the consolation of immortality!
Receiving such a warm reception with On Her Own Ground, The Life and Times of Madame C. J. Walker, A'Lelia Bundles is continuing as she started. She is in the final stages of rewriting, polishing her manuscript, well beyond the the superficial degree that others might. She is a perfectionist, like Walker women before her, and so will not be satisfied until her dulcet prose shines forth like a diamond.
Once she has finished, we will learn about all sorts of things long the cause of wonder. Was A'Lelia Walker's first husband, John Robinson, the hotel waiter, really the love of her life? Or, notwithstanding three tries tying the knot, was she also gay, like a score of her best friends, like several of her set who also married persons with a different gender than theirs?
We already know, that due to her industry, networking skills and keen instincts, that much of the success of the Walker Company was due to A'Lelia Walker. But far more awaits us, because once A'Lelia Bundles has completed her task, metaphorically, but still most magically, she will take us by the hand to the much changed world and times of her namesake. Guiding us into our recent history , like Dicken's spirit in A Christmas Carol, with but a touch of her gown, we'll be transported. Revealed will be a world familiar and foreign. Most surprisingly, we'll discover, that like our epoch, like our lives, it was hardly all bad, that many things were quite wonderful in fact. More amazing still, going back in time, communing with her people, our people, proud, prepared, purposeful and black, we will discover in them, those who have gone before us, our own wonderful selves.
Courtesy of Ms. A'Lelia Bundles/aleliabundles.com
1923: Mrs. Gordon H. Jackson
Courtesy of Ms. A'Lelia Bundles/aleliabundles.com
Like remarkable historians who have come before, whether Stephen Birmingham, who wrote Certain People, David Levering Lewis, the author of When Harlem was in Vogue, or Gerrie Major, who penned Black Society, A'Lelia Bundles is engaged in establishing a legacy too.
After A'Lelia Bundles, perhaps Nichelle Gainer is our most recent precious prize? For her wonderful blog posts have already let us know just how marvelous her soon-to-be delivered book, Vintage Black Glamour is certain to be.
Circa 1911: A'Lelia Walker wearing brocade turban with egret aigrette by Paul Poiret. The innovative Paris couturier, who banished corsets, was a friend who A'Lelia Walker entertained.
A'Lelia Walker by Berenice Abbott circa 1930
That late great trailblazing historian from San Francisco, Eric Garber, wrote of A'Lelia's penchant for parties and gay people:
"Because A'Lelia adored the company of lesbians and gay men, her parties had a distinctly gay ambiance. Elegant homosexuals such as Edward Perry, Edna Thomas. Harold Jackman, and Caska Bonds were her closest friends. So were scores of white celebrities..."
Much earlier, novelist Marjorie Worthington remembered:
"We went several times that winter to Madame Allelia [sic] Walker's Thursday "at-homes" on a beautiful street in Harlem known as, Sugar Hill...." [Madame Walker's] lavishly furnished house was a gathering place not only for artists and authors and theatrical stars of her own race, but for celebrities from all over the world. Drinks and food were served, and there was always music, generously performed enthusiastically received."
Madame Walker, and especially her daughter A'Lelia, loved to fill their home with friends. Madame Walker's initial gala, a luncheon party for nearly 100, blacks and whites, was hosted in honor of the Hon. Emmett J. Scott, Special Assistant to the Secretary of War in September of 1918. President wilson, after first objecting, at last allowed blacks to fight in the World War, and Mr, Scott is the closest African Americans have to a cabinet officer. Madame Walker's guests lunched out on the terrace before entering the music room for musical entertainment. J. Rosamond Johnson, who wrote, "Lift Every Voice and Sing", "The African American National Anthem", eminent organist Melville Charlton and other musicians played and sang. It was a lovely afternoon, but not without purpose. Determined that like official entertaining at the White House, that her social gatherings contributed to political action, Madame Walker used this occasion to implore blacks to set aside differences, and support the war-effort. She also asked that Washington take note of black participation in the defence of democracy and outlaw lynching.
The Hon. Emmett J. Scott, Special Assistant to the Secretary of War
As for A'Lelia Walker, she was more easy. Many recollections confirm her generous nature, her delight in enjoyment, and in providing pleasure as well. By all accounts, everyone from chorus girls to artists to socialites to visiting royalty would come at least once to enjoy her engaging hospitality. Whether at the Dark Tower, 80 Edgecombe, or Villa Lewaro, wherever she was, though not named 'Laeticia', A'Lelia was the "joy goddess."
They say that whatever one's race, class, condition or sexuality today, that people are, on the whole, rather impatient. If then you are an intrepid exception, and have made it this far: through over one hundred pages, numerous pictures and 12,275 words or so, besides offering my congratulations, I ought perhaps to summarize of my intent. Originalist ideologues, nostalgic for paternalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy notwithstanding, ever-changing America, has not changed enough. Justice delayed is, justice denied.
Still beckoning and golden, the American Dream must not be allowed to become irrelevant. It is still so rich and real and robust, but for fewer and fewer, seems within reach. As America evolves to grow ever more diverse, opportunity and reward, ought to expand and not retract to enrich just some at the top.
Madame C. J. Walker, her daughter A'Lelia Walker, both strove towards such an empowering and beneficial end. An outstanding relic of their faith in our country, Villa Lewaro, as much as Mount Vernon or Monticello, is a shrine that deserves to be on public view, as a museum dedicated to determination and the humanitarian impulse to help others.
Circa 1918: Villa Lewaro Guests
Madame Walker, and especially her daughter A'Lelia, loved to fill their home with friends. They included not only eminent blacks like the poet William Stanley Braithwaite and the composer and concert singer Harry T. Burleigh, but Walker beauty-shop operators. One guest, Enrico Caruso, coined the villa's name, using two letters from each name of Mme. Walker's only child, A'lelia Walker Robinson.
Lloyd and Edna Thomas
Edna was a great actress. She started out as Madame Walker's social secretary. One of her jobs was to look up words Walker did not understand reading the newspaper. Regretting having only a scant education, in this way she could learn and expand her vocabulary.
Lloyd Thomas managed their 136th street beauty salon for the Walkers. In 1929, at a party given by A'Lelia, Lloyd introduced Edna to English aristocrat Olivia Wyndham. For the rest of their lives the women were a devoted couple
A manservant for Mrs. and Mrs. Basil Rathbone, Edward Perry studied painting with Winold Reiss, before moving on to acting and stage management. Esteemed as Harlem's Elsa Maxwell, late in life he had a career as a party consultant
1929: Harold Jackman by Richmond Barthe
Designated the "handsomest man in Harlem," London-born Harold Jackman, who had an unknown white English father and a black West Indian mother, was a high school teacher, model, actor, writer, and patron, with a life-long interest theater and in documenting African American cultural life. Gay in most every way, he nonetheless managed to have a daughter, with a white friend, to whom he left half his estate
Spirited off as a young boy to England by an aristocrat who lived on London's Lilac Sweep, Bonds grew to become a music coach, with attractive protegees of uneven talent. A particular friend of A'Lelia's he gained the lease of her apartment when she died. He lived there with a youth named Embry Bonner
Cocaine-addict and Harlem lover Princess Violette Murat, was born Violette Jacqueline Charlotte Ney d'Elchingen. Writer Zora Neal Husrton called her "Princess Muskrat". Fortunately, as she was a lesbian, her husband, Bonaparte Prince Eugene Louis Michel Joachim Napoleon Murat, pre-deceased her by almost 40 years
Julius Lorenzo Cobb Bledsoe was a once-renowned, but now forgotten baritone, the first 'Joe' in "Showboat" and the first African American artist to gain regular employment on Broadway. None the less, finding legitimate operatic roles scare in the States, he concertized to acclaim and profit in Europe. Here he met his well-to-do Dutch lover, sometime-diplomatic cultural attache, Adriain Frederick Huygens
Ivor Novello, a Welsh composer, playwright, matanee and film star became one of the most popular British entertainers of the first half of the 20th century. Born into a musical family, his operatic-coach-mother Clara Davies, was the teacher of Caska Bonds. Norvello's first big success was as a songwriter was the World War I favorite "Keep the Home Fires Burning"
Geraldyn Hodges Dismond, Harlem's 'Lady Nicotine', a inveterate journalist from Chicago, who in time, ditched her philandering husband, to become Gerrie Major of Jet Magazine
The 'Night Hawk', Gerrie's husband, the college football star, World War I hero, Dr. Binga Dismond, a man said to have too much, of everything!
Jimmy Daniels and Wallace Thurman shared a room as boarders at 1890 Seventh Avenue on the north-west corner of 115th Street, in a cooperative unit owned by Edna and Lloyd Thomas. Edna Thomas' white lesbian lover, English aristocrat Olivia Wyndham, who also lived here, is seen with in the picture above, with Edna, at the center. Jimmy is on the far left, while Lloyd sits on the right, with 'It Girl' Blanche Dunn on his lap.