Meet A’Lelia Bundles, Journalist, Historian, and Community Champion | Columbia

These initiatives had been impressed by the A’Lelia Bundles Community Scholars Program at Columbia University, the place Bundles obtained her grasp’s diploma in journalism and is vice chair emerita of the college’s board of trustees. Columbia’s program connects native students to the sources and mental lifetime of the college for 3 years whereas they pursue a community-focused challenge. The first group arrived on campus in 2013.

Columbia Neighbors lately sat down for a Zoom chat with Bundles, who was surrounded by a wall of books, to speak about her work, her household, and what she desires to do subsequent.

The Columbia Community Scholars program was named for you in 2020. What made you such an lively supporter over time?

I like the Community Scholars idea of recognizing the brilliance of people that reside above a hundred and tenth Street. People who might not have already been on campus or didn’t have a PhD, however their work was actually vital. And it’s not simply Columbia giving one thing to them, they’re giving one thing again to Columbia and to the group. There are so many people who find themselves doing actually unbelievable work. Eric Washington’s guide [Boss of the Grips: The Life of James H. Williams and the Red Caps of Grand Central Terminal] is award-winning. Debra Ann Byrd’s work at enjoying Othello is simply unbelievable. They would nonetheless be getting accolades, however I believe the reference to Columbia, the entry to sources, the group that it creates, the interdisciplinary relationships that they’re capable of construct with the opposite students, in addition to different individuals on campus, simply provides a lot extra to their work. I believe it opens some doorways for them that may not have been open, but in addition exposes the Columbia group to their brilliance.

What impressed you to hint your roots?

The last item I anticipated to be doing is telling my household story. When I bought to Columbia and was attempting to determine the subject for my grasp’s paper, I used to be actually lucky to have Phyllis Garland, the one Black girl on the college, as my advisor. I gave Phyllis some lame uninteresting clichéd subjects and on the finish of the dialog she mentioned, “Your identify is A’Lelia, do you may have any connection to Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker?” I believe Phyl most likely knew the reply—that solely a member of the family would have my unusually spelled identify—and once I mentioned, “Yes,” Phyl mentioned, “That’s what you’re going to jot down about.”

That was the autumn of 1975. It was a extremely vital second when there have been nonetheless some individuals alive who had identified them. It has was 4 books and a Netflix collection and a haircare line and a stamp and different kinds of issues, but it surely was actually the facility of a professor and particularly a Columbia professor who pushed me alongside that path. Phyl validated the significance of the story for me at a time when few books by or about Black ladies had been being revealed. Now I do know that this story wanted to be advised and I’m so lucky that the entire analysis and writing expertise I developed throughout my profession as a journalist helped me to develop into a extra highly effective storyteller.

Is there something that individuals nonetheless get mistaken about Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker?

After nearly 50 years of telling this story, I’m actually joyful that extra individuals now see Madam Walker as an revolutionary haircare business pioneer whose position as an entrepreneur and philanthropist continues to encourage different ladies.  But there may be nonetheless quite a lot of misinformation. While many individuals have advised me they had been entertained by Self Made, the fictional 2020 Netflix collection that was impressed by On Her Own Ground, my nonfiction biography, I’ve to confess to some ambivalence about it. Octavia Spencer was nice within the position, however I used to be not a fan of a few of the storylines. While colorism stays an vital subject, it wasn’t an precise supply of battle between Madam Walker and her competitor. I want the script hadn’t develop into such a melodramatic catfight between two ladies when Madam Walker’s story is extra about ladies empowering different ladies. I simply thought there have been quite a lot of missed alternatives to discover Black ladies and the establishments they had been constructing throughout that period. I want the producers had given the viewers extra credit score to wrap their minds round nuanced concepts.

You’re engaged on a guide about A’Lelia Walker, how is it going?

Here’s one of many chapters proper right here [Bundles holds up a manuscript filled with her edits] as a result of it’s by no means distant. Almost anyone who writes concerning the Harlem Renaissance will write about A’Lelia Walker, and you’ll see primarily the identical paragraph repeated over and over once more, and about half of that’s inaccurate. I’ve simply found a lot about her life that’s fascinating that I believe will actually, actually shock individuals.

It was A’Lelia Walker’s thought for the Walker Company to have a presence in Harlem. She persuaded her mom in 1913, as Harlem was changing into the mecca of African American politics and tradition, that they wanted to have a department of their enterprise in New York. And so, they purchased a townhouse on 136th Street and then finally expanded it right into a double townhouse with a magnificence salon and a magnificence college, and dwelling quarters. It was each ladies’s love of music and tradition and artwork that actually planted the seeds for it to develop into an iconic cultural gathering place throughout the Nineteen Twenties.

When you’ve completed your guide, what’s subsequent?

My actual dream for the subsequent decade is to learn books and journey. I’ll at all times do nonprofit boards and I at all times need to do speeches and that form of factor, however I actually do need to simply have a time period the place I’m touring and studying and considering. And then one thing will develop of that. That’s my dream for myself.

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