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Black Hair, Let’s Care: Great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker discusses her lasting legacy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.- At the corner of Indiana Avenue the historic Madam Walker Theatre is a symbol of the past named after the woman who became the first female american self-made millionaire.

But on the inside, I had the opportunity to go beyond what the internet and some history books tell us about Madam C.J. Walker when I sat down with her great-great granddaughter and official historian A'Lelia Bundles.

"But I love that she has many, many dimensions. That she was an entrepreneur, a pioneer in the hair care industry, somebody who provided jobs for thousands of women," A'Lelia said.

There was so much more to the woman worthy of this historic landmark. She created lasting wealth for her family and others by creating her own line of African-American hair care products in 1905.

"And then when she made a lot of money, she used that money to try to make a difference in her community to support the arts, to support political causes. She was a big supporter of the NAACP anti-lynching movement. So I really think of her as Black Lives Matter 1.0," A'Lelia said.

I wondered if she were alive today what role would she play in the beauty movement and this battle of the acceptance of black women's natural hair.

"Madam Walker would be at the forefront. She'd be on social media, she'd be on Instagram I know that because she really understood how to market herself and how to market her product," A'Lelia said.

Even now, Madam Walker's role in the hair care industry lives on inside The Walker Beauty Salon and beauty company Sundial has launched a new line of products in Walker's honor.

"So, the formulas are all new because we've had 100 years of research and development. We know that our hair doesn't need some of the heavier ointments that were used 100 years ago, but that were revolutionary and necessary 100 years ago," A'Lelia said.

A'lelia recalls the time when women in the 60's stop straightening their hair and embraced the Angela Davis style afro. After being shunned and fired from many jobs, women went back to straight hair. Now, she says an array of products tailored to black natural hair has allowed women to embrace their curls and texture again.

"I also think Chris Rock's movie 'Good Hair' made a big impact on people when they heard that word creamy crack they began to question what is it that I'm doing why am I damaging my hair and what's wrong with other people who criticize my hair. Not what's wrong with me what's wrong with those people who can't see my beauty," A'Lelia said.

A'Lelia says she's honored Madam Walker's legacy is included in the present pendulum swing that's allowing more women to embrace their natural hair. And she believes this time it's here to stay.

"I think we're in a really great time where we're accepting of ourselves and we are accepting of other people and we understand that if somebody is uncomfortable with our hair that's their problem, not ours."

A'Lelia held discussion at the Indianapolis Central Library. She talked to the crowd about Madam Walker's life and shared more from her new children's book "All About Madam C.J. Walker. "