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ALelia Walker was one of the most interesting figures of the Harlem Renaissance As a young heiress to a substantial fortune from her mother and first successful Negro entrepreneur ALelia Walker set the stage where all the important figures of the Harlem Renaissance came to play Walker used her fortune to entertain lavishly during the Harlem Renaissance and became one of its most beloved and well-known insiders In more ways than one she became the bright little center that the rest of the art and literary world crowded around Walkers circle of friends included poet Langston Hughes writer Countee Cullen and music critic photographer and novelist Carl Van Vechten She was pivotal in getting black artists and writers noticed by the right people even though she was not one of them Walker was born Lelia McWilliams on June 6 1885 in Vicksburg Mississippi daughter of Sarah Breedlove and Moses McWilliams Sarah worked as a washerwoman and raised Lelia alone after McWilliams disappeared Lelia was no more than eighteen when her mother remarried and changed her name to Madam C J Walker She founded a line of hair-care products in St Louis Missouri apparently inspired by a dream in which a large black man provided her with a secret formula that would straighten black hair After briefly attending Tennessees Knoxville College Lelia joined her mother in the family business which by 1908 had become extremely successful At the age of 23 Lelia was head of the companys Pittsburgh office and oversaw both the branch and Lelia College the cosmetology-training center her mother had named after her In 1912 Lelia adopted a daughter Mae In 1914 Madam Walker became one of the first African Americans to own property in Harlem She bought a pair of townhouses on 136th Street During this time Lelia had already married and divorced a man named Robinson She joined her mother in New York City and continued to work for
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