madam c.j. walker finally getting respect she deserves

December 19, 2018

Richelieu Dennis, founder and CEO of Sun­dial Brands (Shea Moisture, Nubian Heritage), and Essence Ventures is working on a truly exciting new project. Dennis purchased the historic Villa Lewaro — an Irvington N.Y. 34-room mansion built for entrepreneurial icon Madam C.J. Walker and designed by Black architect Vertner Woodson Tandy — Dennis hopes to transform the estate into a training center and retreat “de­signed to sup­port Black women en­tre­pre­neurs in their ef­forts to turn their ideas into flour­ish­ing en­ter­prises.”

This incredible project comes in the wake of new zoning laws issued for the town of Irving which will now allow the adaptive reuse of registered historical buildings specifically for non-residential purposes. Villa Lewaro is one of several local buildings that get the new criteria.

Dennis’ plans to retire this important piece of Walker’s legacy isn’t his first effort to secure Walker’s place in history. In 2016, he launched Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture, a health-focused line of products that build upon Walker’s work to educate others about maintaining healthy hair. “The story means so much to so many. And I felt it wasn’t right that the most relevant and cultural icon of beauty and the beauty business, and the representation of what beauty means to our community, was not represented in the same way as Estée Lauder and Coco Chanel. It’s not like we don’t have that (Walker) legacy to look up to,” Dennis said.

Not too far away in New Jersey, Black freedom fighter and abolitionist Harriet Tubman will be honored with a new museum at Cape May’s Macedonia Baptist Church. The town in which Tubman lived at one point, Cape May is where she raised funds to liberate enslaved Blacks during the 1850s. The museum will also chronicle the large Black community that once lived in the area, too. It would be a permanent exhibit there so that people would understand and appreciate that this was part of Cape May at that time,” said developer Bob Mullock. “At one time, the population of Cape May was 30 percent African-American, that’s what the records show.”

Each of these moves comes with growing national interest in Black history and the subsequent popularity of African American cultural sites and museums, like the National Museum of African American History and Culture Smithsonian and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice as known as the National Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama.