Having already talked about African American politicians, scholars, and even musicians, it is time we paid some tribute to those in the community who became a beacon of guidance for the rest of us in the world of business and economics.
Margaret Walker, more commonly known as Maggie Lena Walker, is among such people. The fact that she was a Black woman who chose to manage her own independent business in the age of segregation makes her a remarkable figure in Black history.
MAGGIE LENA WALKER (1864-1934)
Mrs. Walker was in fact that first woman of any race in America who became a bank president.
She was a staunch supporter of Black and women’s rights and made her own life an example for all the Black women to follow.
In her later years, she was heavily affected by paralysis but continued to go about her day’s business in a wheelchair. She was indeed a lady of remarkably strong character and spirits.
EARLY YEARS & YOUTH
Maggie was born in Richmond, Virginia, and was part of the household staff in a mansion of a Union spy.
She was young when her stepfather died and her mother started to support the family as a laundress. They were regular members of the First African Baptist Church and young Maggie went to school and helped her mother at work.
As she was growing up, Maggie joined the Independent Order of St. Luke, which was a community organization that tended to the aging and sick population around. She worked with the organization voluntarily until the end of her years.
THE MANY ROLES OF MRS. WALKER
Maggie took a job as a schoolteacher when she was 20 and taught there for a few years until she married a rich contractor, Armstead Walker Jr. This allowed her to leave the job and settle comfortably, giving more of her time to the Order’s cause.
She had two sons and dedicated most of her time to their upbringing. As the children grew up, however, Mrs. Walker turned to the business affairs of the Independent Order of St. Luke’s. She published a newspaper as a source of income and promotion for the Order and also chartered the first bank to be owned by a black woman: St. Luke Penny Savings Bank.
She was its first president and later became the board’s chairperson when the bank joined with two other banks.
Her husband died unexpectedly in 1915 and she was then left to handle the household. Mrs. Walker had already made a few smart investments that continued to support her family.
As an example to black women – and white – alike, Mrs. Walker was awarded an honorary degree by the great Virginia Union University in 1925 and her home in Richmond later became a National Historic Site.
The poetry of a people comes from the deep recesses of the unconscious, the irrational and the collective body of our ancestral memories.
When I was about eight, I decided that the most wonderful thing, next to a human being, was a book.
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth; let a people loving freedom comes to growth.
Friends and good manners will carry you where money won’t go.