By Ryan Velez
Even today, more and more of the hidden stories of success and tragedy in the slavery and post-slavery era are coming to light, as several cities, businesses, and institutions are coming to light. The Washington Post is sharing one such example, as Maggie Walker, an overlooked figure in Black business is finally being honored in her native Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy.
The first woman, Black or otherwise, to open a bank in this country as well as the founder of a newspaper, humanitarian, and educator, Maggie Walker will have a 10-foot statue made of her reflecting the way she lived, glasses pinned to her lapel, checkbook in hand. The statue will be made by acclaimed Maryland sculptor Antonio “Toby” Mendez. “She’s ready to work,” said Mendez. “She wasn’t just raising the bar for her community. She was working to create opportunities.”
It is fitting that with the Bank Black movement picking up steam, that a trailblazer like Walker is being honored in this way, but this is long overdue for many Black leaders in the community. St. Luke’s Penny Savings gave loans to Black business owners and residents at fair rates, then recycled the interest earned to keep building the community.
“Let us put our moneys together,” Walker said in 1901. “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.” While this is a happy moment for many in Richmond, it also casts a shadow over the presence of the many Confederate monuments that Walker’s new statue will be sharing real estate with. This debate has ringed out in cities all over the South, and some have taken action, with New Orleans removing its Confederate monuments.
Richmond’s mayor, Levar Stoney, who is Black, is opting to take a different stance, looking to recast signage and add context to the various statues of figures of Robert E. Lee and other major faces of the Confederacy. In addition, Stoney wants to add new ones devoted to heroes who fought against slavery and worked towards civil rights. Some feel that this is a respectful balance, while others accuse him of trying to dodge the issue and sanctioning celebration of slavery and its defenders through his lack of action.