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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — WJZ recently spoke with the great-great granddaughter of the country’s first Black female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker.
Walker made her fortune selling hair care products. Now, more than 100 years after her death, her products are getting a new life thanks to one of her descendants.
A’Lelia Bundles has spent years collecting photos, newspaper clippings and old product containers, all keepsakes of her great-great grandmother’s legacy.
“I’m still finding things,” Bundles said. “It is a privilege to tell her story.”
Born on a Louisiana plantation in 1867, Walker was the first child in her family to be born free. Her humble roots and remarkable story only grew from there.
“(She was) orphaned at seven,” Bundles said. “Married at 14. A mother at 17 and a widow at 20. So, there was absolutely no reason why anybody would think that this person was going to do anything other than just live a life of subsistence.”
Walker, who suffered from hair loss herself, recognized a need for people in the same position. So, she began developing products to help people overcome it.
“Madam Walker founded her company in 1906, with her Madam Walker Wonderful Hair Grower and her Vegetable Shampoo,” Bundles said.
Notably, Walker created a line designed specially for Black women.
At the time, Bundles said, most people did not have access to indoor plumbing or electricity. As a result, she said, they didn’t bathe or wash their hair often.
“So they had really bad scalp infections,” Bundles said. “They were going bald.”
It didn’t take long for the products to become a hit. Naturally, Walker became not only a household name but a symbol of resilience.
“I love the fact that she put her own image on this because she was really making a statement to other Black women that, ‘I’m proud of myself,’” Bundles said. “It’s, in a sense, hope in a jar.”
Walker was known for more than just her hair care products.
Her empire gave jobs to thousands of women. She also used her influence to fight for social justice. Her legacy continues to this day.
Madam Walker passed away in 1919, but her company has never gone out of business. The family owned it through the ‘80s.
Unilever later purchased the trademark.
When the pandemic began, Bundles wanted to revive Madam Walker’s products.
She began working with Unilever on a new line, inspired by the original. After launching in January, the line is now sold through Walmart.
WJZ took Bundles to her local store and found that the new products, like the originals, are gaining traction with African American women.
She ran into two women who had a cart full of them.
“That’s why I wanted to pick it up, because I was like, I’ve never seen this before,” one of the women said.
Bundles has dedicated her life to telling her great-great grandmother’s story.
She has written books about Walker, which led to a 2020 Netflix series inspired by the trailblazer’s life.
While Bundles believes her ancestor had a sense of self that fueled her entrepreneurial spirit, she is unsure whether Walker could have predicted her own success.
“I think that’s what keeps me going is that I know it does inspire other people,” she said.
This content was originally published here.