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The incredible story of Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919) is brought to life by her great-great granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, author of the biography Self Made (previously published as On Her Own Ground). Born in Louisiana after the Civil War, orphaned at seven, married at 14, widowed at 20, Walker went on to become an influential businesswoman, activist, philanthropist, and the first self-made woman millionaire. She built a haircare empire that depended upon women sales reps — tens of thousands earning financial independence for the first time — whom she later organized to become a force for social change.


A full transcript of this episode is available here.


Author and journalist A’Lelia Bundles is at work on her fifth book, The Joy Goddess of Harlem: A’Lelia Walker and the Harlem Renaissance, a biography of her great-grandmother, daughter of Madam C.J. Walker, whose parties, friendships, international travels and arts patronage helped define the era. Self Made (previously published as On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker) — her biography of her great-great-grandmother — was named a New York Times Notable Book. It is now a Netflix series featuring Oscar award winner, Octavia Spencer.

A’Lelia was a network television news executive and producer for 30 years at NBC News and then at ABC News, where she was Washington, DC deputy bureau chief. She currently is a Columbia University trustee and on the advisory boards of Walker’s Legacy, the March on Washington Film Festival and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Schlesinger Library at Harvard. She serves as an advisor and Walker historian for the Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culture product line that was launched by Sundial Brands in March 2016.  As president of the Madam Walker/A’Lelia Walker Family Archives, she shares the history of her famous ancestors through speeches, publications, documents, photographs and several public initiatives. She served as chairman of the board of the National Archives Foundation from 2011 to 2017.

She is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She also is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


  • READ A’Lelia’s biography of Madam C.J. Walker, Self Made (previously published as On Her Own Ground) from Amazon, or get an autographed copy direct from A’Lelia here.
  • LISTEN to A’Lelia read the book on Audible.
  • WATCH the four-part series, “Self Made,” starring Octavia Spencer on Netflix.
  • LEARN more about Madam Walker’s mansion, currently being turned into a center for entrepreneurs.

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