Maggie L. Walker, Relentless Activist And 1st Woman to Open A US Bank

In 1904, when Maggie Lena Walker led a boycott against segregated street cars in Richmond, Virginia, she powerfully proclaimed “Our self-respect demands that we walk.” Walker articulated an absolute resolve, firmly rooted in her confidence that Black people could build and provide for their own communities. As a courageous activist, outspoken editor, and successful entrepreneur, her exemplary self-regard was routinely displayed in the different arenas she tirelessly worked to improve Black lives. One of Maggie Lena Walker’s crowning achievements was becoming the very first woman in the United States to open a bank.

Walker chartered the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903. As an employer of Black people and a source for their home and business loans, her bank was a major financial institution in Richmond’s Black community. To survive the 1929 stock market crash, Walker led the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank through a merger with two Black owned banks to form the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. With her strategic guidance, the joint venture produced the longest operating Black Bank in the United States.

Maggie Walker was a multi-talented woman who exemplified an indomitable spirit. When Black people were being routinely lynched, she started a newspaper to expose and help end the terror. When Black women shopping for hats in department stores were made to place wax paper on their heads, as a contaminant barrier before trying them on, Walker opened her own store. As the early NAACP leader grew older and her mobility waned, Walker attached wheels to her desk chair and installed an elevator in her home in order to continue her relentless efforts to improve Black lives.
To learn more about Maggie Walker and be inspired by her wide span of extraordinary, click here. You’ll find both an article and short video about her life and legacy.

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