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social sciences

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Walker, A'Lelia (1885-1931)  
page: 1  2  

Walker died suddenly of a heart attack on August 17, 1931, while on a trip to New Jersey with Mayme White to visit another close female friend. She was only 46, but had not listened to her doctors' warnings to lower her blood pressure and lose weight. Like her parties, her funeral was an extravagant, invitation-only affair, with many more people in attendance than could fit into the Harlem mortuary.

By the time of Walker's death, the Depression had had a devastating impact on the Harlem Renaissance, as white pleasure-seekers no longer had money to spend in Harlem, and most African Americans, who did not have much to begin with, were affected even more severely.

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Walker herself was not immune to great financial difficulties. With hair-care products an unnecessary and unaffordable expense for most African Americans, her company suffered. She was forced to mortgage Villa Lewaro and sell most of its contents to maintain a modicum of her lavish lifestyle. Her parties became less opulent, if not less popular with black glbtq people.

Walker's passing marked the passing of an era. Perhaps playing on words, Langston Hughes remarked that her death "was really the end of the gay times of the New Negro era in Harlem."

Brett Genny Beemyn

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social sciences >> Overview:  African Americans

Glbtq African Americans frequently experience racism in predominantly white glbtq communities and homophobia in heterosexual black society, but the multiple oppressions faced by black glbtq people are now being recognized.

literature >> Overview:  The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance, an African-American literary movement of the 1920s and 1930s, included several important gay and lesbian writers.

arts >> Abbott, Berenice

American photographer Berenice Abbott made memorable images of lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men in Paris in the 1920s and in New York from the 1930s through 1965.

literature >> Cullen, Countee

Countee Cullen, an important member of the Harlem Renaissance, has coded references to homosexuality in much of his poetry.

literature >> Hughes, Langston

Langston Hughes, whose literary legacy is enormous and varied, was closeted, but homosexuality was an important influence on his literary imagination, and many of his poems may be read as gay texts.

literature >> Van Vechten, Carl

The gay novelist, critic, and photographer Carl Van Vechten was especially interested in African-American culture and was an influential patron to many writers of the Harlem Renaissance.


Ahmed, Siraj. "Walker, A'Lelia." Encyclopedia of African American Culture and History. Jack Salzman, David Lionel Smith, and Cornel West, eds. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996. 2759-60.

Bundles, A'Lelia. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker. New York: Scribner, 2001.

Garber, Eric. "A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem." Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past. Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, eds. New York: New American Library, 1989. 318-31.

Hughes, Langston. The Big Sea: An Autobiography. New York: Knopf, 1940.

Lewis, David Levering. When Harlem Was in Vogue. New York: Oxford University Press, 1981.

Nugent, Richard Bruce. "On the Dark Tower." Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent. Thomas H. Wirth, ed. Durham, N. C.: Duke University Press, 2002. 217-20.

Wintz, Cary D. Black Culture and the Harlem Renaissance. College Station: Texas A&M Press, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Beemyn, Brett Genny  
    Entry Title: Walker, A'Lelia  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated March 3, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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