Baby Boomer (born 1943 to 1963)
A'Lelia Bundles was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her mother, A'Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, was the vice president of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, continuing the legacy of producing cosmetics and hair care products for black women. Her father S. Henry Bundles, born in Indianapolis, Indiana, was the president of Summit Laboratories, also a hair care company.
A’Lelia attended public schools in Washington Township, a suburb of Indianapolis. She developed an interest in writing at an early age and became the first black editor of her award-winning junior high and high school newspapers. She was elected the first black vice president of North Central High School's student council in April 1968. A'Lelia earned an AB degree from Harvard College and a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
A’Lelia began her professional career with NBC News in New York. Between 1976 and 1989, she was a producer in New York, Houston, Atlanta and Washington, DC. A’Lelia moved to ABC News in 1989. Between 1989 and 2006, she was a producer for World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, deputy bureau chief in Washington, DC and director of talent development in New York and DC.
Simultaneously, A’Lelia began writing books about Madam C. J. Walker, her great-great-grandmother, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist and hair care industry pioneer who is recognized as the first self-made female millionaire in the United States of America. The first of four books about Walker was published in 1991. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, published in 2001, was the inspiration for Self Made, a 2020 Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer.
A’Lelia’s two websites: www.aleliabundles.com and www.madamcjwalker.com provide a catalog of her published books, Madam Walker Family Archives photos, event listings, and links to articles, videos, and podcast episodes featuring A’Lelia and discussions about Madam C.J. Walker. Articles about A’Lelia Bundles and the Walker women have appeared in the O, The Oprah Magazine, Huffington Post, New York Times, and The Guardian, to name a few. She has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, C-Span, NPR and BBC and spoken at Harvard Business School, Spelman College and dozens of corporations, book festivals and women’s conferences about entrepreneurship, philanthropy, financial literacy and women’s and African American history.
A’Lelia has served on several nonprofit boards and advisory councils including the Columbia University Board of Trustees (as a vice chair), National Archives Foundation (chair emerita), Radcliffe College Board of Trustees, and the March on Washington Film Festival.
A'Lelia has been honored with the following:
- Emmy Award (NBC News)
- duPont Gold Baton (ABC News)
- Member of American Academy of Arts and Sciences
- Member of Phi Beta Kappa
- New York Times Notable Book for On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker
- Association of Black Women Historians Letitia Woods Brown Prize
A’Lelia enjoys reading history, biography, fiction and poetry; collecting Black memorabilia, kaleidoscopes, art and Black dolls; and listening to music, especially jazz and R&B. She shares her life with her partner Frederick D. Cooke.
Oral History Summary
A’Lelia Bundles: Madam C.J. Walker and a Family Legacy of Pioneers
Author of the biography that inspired Self Made, the Netflix series about her great-great-grandmother Madam C. J. Walker, an entrepreneur, philanthropist, activist and hair care industry pioneer, A’Lelia Bundles talks about her direct lineal descent from two Revolutionary War patriots through her biological grandmother Fairy Mae Bryant who was adopted by A’Lelia (nee McWilliams) Walker, the only daughter of Sarah Breedlove (Madam C. J. Walker), and became known as Mae Walker. A’Lelia shares stories about how her ancestors, who descended from American Revolution soldier Ishmael Roberts, were pioneers that migrated from North Carolina to Indiana and created free people of color settlements in the early 1800s; and her connection to Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Archer. She discusses her family’s multi-generational use of the name "A'Lelia"; her great grandmother A'Lelia Walker; growing up in a new black suburb of Indianapolis and attending predominantly white schools; her mother (A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles) attending Howard University and taking the position of vice president of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company, continuing the legacy of producing cosmetics and hair care products for black women; her father’s success as the president of Summit Laboratories hair care company; the family’s expectation for her to have her own identity and accomplishments; her experience as a student attending Radcliffe College and graduating from Harvard; losing her mother while studying journalism as a graduate student at Columbia University; the journey to writing about Madam C.J. Walker; experience working as a black woman in the newsroom in the 1970s and highlights from her career at NBC covering the Atlanta child murders and Jesse Jackson, working at ABC on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings, and then as deputy bureau chief in Washington, DC; her independence working as a speaker and author; making one of her first speeches at her grandmother Mae’s alma mater, Spelman College, armed with personal advice from Roots author Alex Haley; assuming board positions with the National Archives Foundation, Columbia University, and Radcliffe College; receiving an Emmy and the Gold Baton award; being recognized by the NY Times for On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker; her decades long relationship with her significant other; losing her father and both brothers within twelve weeks of each other; changing her impression of the Daughters of the American Revolution after learning of the society’s black members; joining the DAR despite having a complicated sense of patriotism; her expectation for America to move toward a more perfect union; and defining "Real Americans" to include people of African descent.
A'Lelia Bundles's oral history was recorded on September 17, 2020 and September 19, 2020
DAR Membership State: Washington, D.C.
DAR Patriot Ancestor(s)
Roberts, Ishmael: North Carolina
African Descent Male