Maggie L. Walker was the daughter of a former slave, who went on to start a newspaper. In addition to that, she was also a humanitarian, a teacher, and a pillar of her community in Richmond, Virginia in the 1920’s. But her most noted accomplishment is being the first woman – and a Black woman at that – to charter a bank in America.
Richmond, Va. was viewed as the former capital of the Confederacy and known for its statues honoring Confederate leaders. While still honoring some of those leaders, the city of Richmond has also gone ahead and honored Ms. Walker with a statue in its downtown area. Marking 153-years to the day she was born, Richmond unveiled a monument honoring the trailblazer on July 15, 2017.
The statue captures Walker as she lived at the age of 45, with her glasses pinned to her lapel and a checkbook in hand. The artist commissioned to create the monument is Antonio “Toby” Mendez, a celebrated Maryland sculptor. Speaking of his 10-foot-tall bronze statue honoring Walker, Mendez said, “She’s ready to work. She wasn’t just raising the bar for her community. She was working to create opportunities.”
Walker was the first woman in America to receive a charter to start a new bank – St. Luke’s Penny Savings. The bank’s mission was to provide loans to Richmond’s Black business owners and residents at fair rates. The bank would then recycle the interest earned to keep building the community.
In 1901, Walker proclaimed, “Let us put our moneys together. Let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.”
In addition to the bank, Walker opened a store where Blacks could shop and sell their own merchandise without being relegated to using a back or side entrance. She had refused to accept any form of oppression against Black people.
A Richmond resident, Gary Flowers, who spearheaded the effort to have the statue erected said, “Children and adults alike need to see the missing pieces of history. We are honored to see Mrs. Walker in her full glory.”
The mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, who is Black, has no plans of joining other Southern cities in removing Confederate statues. Instead, he’s going ahead with plans to recast signage and add context to the statues of Gen. Robert E. Lee and others, along Monument Avenue. Stoney feels that instead of tearing down existing monuments, new ones devoted to the heroes who fought against slavery and championed civil rights should be added.