“Let us awake, let us arise… We can do anything, as soon as we learn the lesson of unity.”– Maggie Lena Walker
Maggie Lena Walker’s Story
Maggie Lena Walker was born in Richmond, Virgina, on July 15, 1864, in the final years of the Civil War. Her mother, a former slave, was a laundress and Walker spent her early years taking in laundry for the white elite of Richmond. She went to school for eleven years and in 1883, graduated from a Black teacher training school where, aside from academics, she was taught the importance of race pride and economic empowerment. Walker joined the fraternal organization the Independent Order of the Sons and Daughters of St. Luke, strengthening her network among Richmond’s black elites.
She started teaching at the Valley School in 1883, but her teaching career ended by 1886 when she married Armstead Walker Jr. According to Virginia law, married women were not allowed to teach, as they were expected to be homemakers. Walker split her time between her family and her work for St. Luke, and was appointed the organization’s grand secretary in 1899. St. Luke was on the verge of bankruptcy and Walker’s vision to uplift the organization was the creation of businesses employing and serving the Black community of Richmond.
She became the first African American female bank president in the United States when she founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903. At a time when white-owned banks did not accept deposits from Black customers, Walker not only grew her bank, but expanded the economic base of the Black community in Richmond by hiring and training Black women workers, and financing over 600 home and business loans for Black families by 1920. She was the largest employer of Black women in Richmond at the time. Walker turned the Order of St. Luke into a national organization, with over 100,000 members in 2,010 councils in 28 states.
Walker also founded a newspaper, The St. Luke Herald, for which she served as managing editor. Her publication shed light on the racial injustice plaguing the community, and included consistent coverage of Jim Crow legislation and lynchings. In 1905, Walker opened a department store tailored for African Americans. As an activist in the early Civil Rights Movement, Walker organized the first Richmond branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), led a city-wide boycott against segregated streetcars, and promoted women’s suffrage, and voter registration drives. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Walker merged her bank with another Black-owned bank, resulting in the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, which survived until 2005, considered the longest operating Black bank in U.S. history.
After gradual debilitation from diabetes paralyzed her legs in the late 1920s, Walker did not let her physical disability slow her down, constructing a wheelchair and a rolling desk from which to continue her work, and installing an elevator in her home. She died on December 15, 1934.
Featured in the Film
Muriel Miller Branch
Muriel Miller Branch is a historian and biographer and served as the president of the Maggie L. Walker National Foundation for ten years. She wrote Pennies to Dollars: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker and Miss Maggie: The Story of Maggie Lena Walker. Branch has been researching Walker’s life and legacy since 1980.
Faith Elizabeth (“Liza”) Walker Mickens
Faith Elizabeth (“Liza”) Walker Mickens is the great-great-granddaughter of Maggie Lena Walker. She has been a family spokesperson speaking about Mrs. Walker’s history and legacy since she was 5 years old. She is a graduate from James Madison University’s class of 2019 with a major in Communication Studies and a concentration in Public Relations. During her time on campus she was a Student Ambassador, a Global Ambassador, and a Diversity Educator.
Chloe McKenzie is a wealth literacy expert, leader for wealth justice, and bestselling author. She advises institutions and Fortune 500 companies on how to fight for wealth justice through wealth literacy; and how to attract and retain new and more diverse clientele through more accessible and inclusive financial practices. She is also the CEO of BlackFem, Inc., a nonprofit with the mission to transform school-based learning so that girls of color in underserved communities are empowered with skills, habits, and resources to build and sustain wealth. Her best-selling book, The Activist Investor: Next Gen Playbook to Dismantle Oppressive Business Models, teaches the next generation of investors how to trade stocks like a community activist.
Maggie Lena Walker was born
IN HISTORY - 1867
Virginia legalized marriages between African Americans
Walker joined the local Good Idea Council #16
Walker graduated from The Colored Normal School
Walker worked as a teacher at the Valley School
Walker’s second child and brother died
Walker elected Grand Secretary of The Independent Order of St. Luke
Walker became the country’s first Black female bank president
Walker organized a boycott against segregated streetcars
Walker opened the St. Luke Emporium
Walker’s eldest son accidentally killed his father
The St. Luke Penny Savings Bank held $376,288 in deposits
Walker ran for office on the Virginia “Lily-Black” Republican Party ticket
Walker’s health declined
Walker merged the St. Luke bank with another Black-owned bank
Walker’s home became a National Historic Site