28 Aug Madame C.J. Walker’s Estate
One of my goals in this season is to encourage women. To remind us that we are more resourceful and more powerful than we could ever imagine.
That is one of the reasons why I started this blog, to share insight and wisdom that would encourage the next person listening to do something great with their lives. To dream more and to enjoy the world around them before it’s too late. To get more out of what we have within our hands and to trust our innate God-given ability to stretch out and be successful. We can really change the world just by walking in the things that God places on our hearts to do.
I especially love the story of Madame C.J. Walker, the first Black woman to become a self-made millionaire in the US. Her magnificent home Villa Lewaro is a living testament to her ingenuity and her determination not to settle for what was handed her.
Her story is so rich and so incredible. I encourage you to search it out and read about it yourself. She was a young widow with a child to raise and little options at a time when women, especially black women had few career choices to their avail. She created a business and an enterprise not just for herself but for all the women she knew that were facing the same limited odds. In the process, she did the impossible for her gender, her race, her class, and her generation. She built Villa Lewaro on the famed Hudson River next door to John Jacob Astor III; the richest man in America at that time, other neighbors were political scions, noted barons of industry and Hollywood’s silent screen stars.
The 20,000 square foot property boasted 34 rooms filled with incredible architecture treasures. It was designed in the Italianate style by architect Vertner Tandy for Madame Walker.
The home was used as a conference center on race relations and as a meeting place for people involved in the Harlem Renaissance, including W.E.B. Dubois and Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston and James Weldon Johnson.
In 1993 the house was purchased by Ambassador Harold Doley and his wife Helena. Ambassador Doley was the founder of Doley Securities LLC. And Ambassador Emeritus of Abidjan on the Ivory Coast.
As it turns out Helena is the sister of one of my oldest and dearest friends Mr. Ken Cobette. After sharing my love of Madame C.J. Walker one night over dinner with Ken and his wife Cathy; Ken asked if I might like to visit the historical estate. It never occurred to me that a normal conversation with old friends would turn into a gracious invitation by Helena and her husband to come and visit and enjoy the historical mansion over a long fall weekend.
It was beyond inspiring. Richard and I along with Ken and his wife Cathy all met up in New York and drove to the estate. Coming into the gates and seeing the historical plaque on the lawn was slightly overwhelming for me. I wandered the beautiful grounds during the day.
I sat by the reflecting pool so popular in the ’20s and thought about all of the distinguished intellectuals and writers that sat right there having deep conversations. Every morning I woke up and looked out of the beautiful little window in my 3rd floor bedroom and pinched myself. I was in Madame’s house. The house that faith built.
That incredible woman had done so much for all women against such incredible odds. Whenever I read her story I am reminded never to complain or say I can’t. She was a woman of great tenacity who never addressed the impossible. She saw victory and success in her future and once she attained it, she turned around and created a template to help others to get there as well.
This past January Ambassador Doley and his wife Helena sold Villa Lewardo. After 24 years of maintaining the legacy, they were ready to pass it on. Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the estate. It was sold to Essence Ventures Chair, Richelieu Dennis and the New Voices Foundation. Villa Lewaro will no longer be used as a private home but will serve as a learning institute or a global think tank, to foster entrepreneurship for future generations.
Somehow, I think Madame would be proud.
My girlfriend Cathy Cobette and me in the estate’s main kitchen.