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Oprah Winfrey is renowned for her media savvy, marketing sense, philanthropic efforts, and accumulated wealth (and the power that accompanies it). She's earned her rep, of course, and her path to stardom and influence couldn't have been easy. Imagine, then, how difficult it must have been a century ago for Madam C. J. Walker, America's first female African-American millionaire. The daughter of slaves, married and divorced by the age of 20, Madam Walker spent nearly two decades as a lowly scrubwoman before concocting (or, as she claimed, being presented in a dream) the formula for a much needed hair care product for African-American women. After making her hair care business a resounding success, Walker devoted much of her time and resources to social causes and philanthropy.
In On Her Own Ground, A'lelia Bundles, Walker's great-great-grandaughter and a woman of no small accomplishment herself (she's spent many years as a television news producer for NBC and ABC), offers an affectionate but unblinking portrait of Madam Walker. (Bundles' mother urged her daughter from her deathbed not to worry about promoting a particular image of their famous forebear, to simply tell the truth.) Bundles also explores the complicated relationship between Madam Walker and her only slightly less renowned daughter (and the author's namesake), A'Lelia Walker, a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and the elder Walker's interactions with such other seminal African-American figures as W. E. B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington.