Photo courtesy of The National Museum of American History
On Saturday, the city of Richmond, Virginia honored the legacy of one of its own when it unveiled a monument of pioneering African American businesswoman Maggie Lena Walker on what would have been her 153rd birthday. During her lifetime, Walker blazed her own trail as the first woman in the U.S. to found and lead a bank.
By 1930, Walker’s St. Luke Penny Savings Bank merged with two other Black owned banks and was re-named the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. It was once the oldest-surviving Black bank in the nation, until it was acquired by Abigail Adams National Bancorp in 2005.
Walker also opened a department store that employed African American women and provided cheaper goods for the Black community. Her passion for the financial and social progress of African Americans and women led Walker to years of service for the NAACP, National Association of Colored Women, and the Virginia Industrial School for Girls.
Photo credit: Mark Gormus
“She was a community person. She wasn’t just about her immediate family,” said Walker’s great-great-granddaughter Lisa Monique Walker Martin during the unveiling ceremony.
Photo credit: Scott Elmquist
The sculptor behind the 10-foot bronze statue is Maryland artist Antonio “Toby” Mendez, whose work include a statue of the first African American Supreme Justice Thurgood Marshall, which sits in front of the Maryland State House, pioneering biologist Ernest Everett Just, at a Prince George’s County Middle School, and Indian civil rights leader Mohandas Gandhi in Long Island, N.Y.
After 20 years in the making, the Maggie Lena Walker monument sits in the former capital of the Confederacy facing a street where African Americans were once not welcomed and has become an opening to the Jackson Ward, “a historic African-American community that (Walker) helped inspire,” according to the Richmond Times Dispatch. It is now the city’s first monument on a city street dedicated to a woman.
“I want people to feel like they are welcomed into her family,” Walker Martin said. “I want people to be able to come to her — because she had barriers she had to overcome. If she can do all that, then we don’t have any excuse.”
About 500 people attended the unveiling ceremony; however, we hope generations of people will continue to be inspired by the powerful life and legacy of Maggie Lena Walker.