A'Lelia Walker's Dark Tower

Article excerpt

Through streets crowded with thousands of curious onlookers, A'Lelia Walker's funeral cortege left Harlem and wended its way to the Bronx. A single airplane piloted by Col. Hubert Julian, dubbed by the New York press as The Black Eagle, circled overhead as if keeping a celestial vigil. Just before the interment at Woodlawn Cemetery, Julian, according to New York's Amsterdam News, "descended noiselessly from the heavens and dropped a final floral tribute to the memory of the dead heiress." Poet Langston Hughes, who had written a poem for the funeral, later recalled that Walker's death was "really the end of the gay time of the New Negro Era in Harlem."

In the 1920s, the thrice-married A'Lelia Walker Robinson Wilson Kennedy, daughter of millionaire Madam C. J. Walker, dazzled Harlem with her parties and soirees. An engraved invitation to one of Walker's parties at either her fabulously furnished townhouse on West 136th Street or her more intimate apartment on Edgecomb Avenue was, as they might have said at the time, "the cat's meow." Walker also owned a mansion in Irvington-on-the-Hudson but did not frequent it often. Her mother had stipulated in her will that the mansion, Villa Lewaro, should be donated to the NAACP after A'Lelia's death. But, when A Lelia Walker died in 1931, the NAACP declined the house because of the upkeep and taxes. (In 1919, her mother had given the largest gift the ten-year-old NAACP had ever received for its antilynching campaign.)

Present at A'Lelia Walker's expensively catered events in Harlem would be an array of artists-poets, novelists, journalists, painters, musicians, socialites, gamblers and Pullman Car porters. …