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A'Lelia Walker
A’Lelia Walker
Inscribed 1926
James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

This photograph of A’Lelia Walker in her typical sumptuous attire is inscribed, “Sincerely Yours, A’Lelia Walker, April 1926.”

 

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Wealthy socialite A’Lelia Walker was known around Harlem as the “Mahogany Millionairess” and the “Dekink Heiress” ; the first sobriquet referred to her dark skin, the second to the source of her fortunes—the hair straightener, skin lightener, and other beauty products her mother, Madame C. J. Walker, created for African-American women. Walker was renowned for the extravagant parties she hosted at her Harlem brownstone and at the Villa Lewaro, her vast mansion in Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Wearing a uniform of silk dresses, sable coats, turbans encrusted with jewels, and often carrying a riding crop, the 6-foot-tall Walker was unmistakable, even among the crowds at her legendary parties. “She would usually issue several hundred invitations to each party,” Langston Hughes wrote. “Unless you went early there was no possible way of getting in. Her parties were as crowded as the New York Subway at the rush hour—entrance, lobby, steps, hallway, and apartment a milling crush of guests with everybody seeming to enjoy the crowding.”1 In addition to the lavish parties that made her famous, Walker was hostess of The Dark Tower, Harlem’s premier literary salon.

1 Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, NY: Knopf, 1940, p. 244.

 

 

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