Online Forum: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker

May 20-24, 2019

Black Perspectivesthe award-winning blog of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), is hosting an online forum on Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919). The forum on Walker—published commemoratively to recognize the centennial anniversary of her death on May 25, 1919—focuses on her entrepreneurial achievement, cultural importance, and activism as a Black business woman, beauty icon, and community advocate. Contributors discuss topics ranging from the architectural significance of Walker’s residences to her economic and philanthropic contributions to Black communities. They reveal how research on Walker has evolved over time and why scholars continue to be fascinated by and revisit her life and legacy. Collectively, the essays demonstrate how and why Walker remains important and relevant for the current historical moment, including connections to modern beauty culture, social justice politics, and community uplift.

The forum will feature essays from Tyrone McKinley Freeman (Indiana University), A’Lelia Bundles (Journalist)Tiffany M. Gill (University of Delaware)Paul Mullins (Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis), and Tara Dudley (University of Texas at Austin).

The forum begins on Monday, May 20, 2019 and concludes on Friday, May 24. During the week of the online forum, Black Perspectives will publish new blog posts every day at 5:30AM EST. Please follow Black Perspectives (@BlkPerspectives) and AAIHS (@AAIHS) on Twitter, like AAIHS on Facebook, or subscribe to our blog for updates. By subscribing to Black Perspectives, each new post will automatically be delivered to your inbox during the week of the forum.


About the Organizer

Tyrone McKinley Freeman is assistant professor of philanthropic studies and director of undergraduate programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. His work focuses on the history of philanthropy, philanthropy in communities of color, and philanthropy in higher education. He is co-author of Race, Gender and Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011). His philanthropic biography entitled Equally Generous and American: The Philanthropic Life of Madam C.J. Walker is under contract by the University of Illinois Press. He can be reached at tyfreema@iu.edu. In addition to organizing the forum, Freeman also authored an essay for the Forum.


About the Participants

A’Lelia Bundles is the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker (Scribner, 2001), a biography of her great-great-grandmother. A fictionalized Netflix series loosely based on this New York Times Notable Book and starring Octavia Spencer is scheduled to air in early 2020. She is at work on her fifth book, The Joy Goddess of Harlem: A’Lelia Walker and the Harlem Renaissance (forthcoming Scribner). An Emmy-award winning former network television news producer and executive with ABC News and NBC News, she is a vice chairman of Columbia University’s Board of Trustees and chair emerita of the National Archives Foundation. She is on the advisory boards of the March on Washington Film Festival and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute. She graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College and received an MSJ from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has participated in residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Follow her on Twitter @aleliabundles.


Tiffany M. Gill is the Inaugural John and Patricia Cochran Scholar and Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History at the University of Delaware. She is the author of Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry(University of Illinois Press, 2010) which was awarded the 2010 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize by the Association of Black Women Historians, and the co-editor of To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (University of Illinois Press, 2019). Her research has been supported by the American Association of University Women, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the National Endowment of the Humanities. A recipient of the 2010 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award for excellence in undergraduate education, Dr. Gill was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians in 2015. Professor Gill is currently at work on a book manuscript chronicling the promise and peril of African American international leisure travel since World War One. Follow her on Twitter @SableVictorian.


Tara A. Dudley is an independent historic preservation consultant and lecturer in the School of Architecture at The University of the Texas of Austin where she teaches the Interior Design History sequence as well as topics courses in American architecture and African American architecture. Her research focuses on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American architecture and design, specifically the undertold/untold contributions of African Americans. She has also conducted extensive research on the influence and impact of free people on color on antebellum New Orleans’s built environment. Her article “Seeking the Ideal African American Interior: The Walker Residences and Salon New York” was published in the Fall-Winter issue of Bard Graduate Center’s Studies in the Decorative Arts (replaced by the journal West 86th).


Paul R. Mullins is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis and Docent of American Historical Archaeology at the University of Oulu (Finland). He is the author of Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture (Springer, 1999) and Glazed America: A History of the Doughnut (2008). His research and teaching interests include historical archaeology, popular culture, race and racism, and modern material culture. He served as president of the Society for Historical Archaeology from 2012 to 2013. He blogs at Archaeology and Material Culture  and Invisible Indianapolis: Race, Heritage, and Community Memory in the Circle City.

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