December 15th in African American History – Maggie Lena Walker

December 15, 1934 Maggie Lena Walker, teacher, businesswoman and the first African American bank president, died.

Walker was born July 15, 1864 in Richmond, Virginia. She attended the Colored Normal School to be trained as a teacher and received her diploma with honors in 1883. After graduation, she taught for three years. In 1899, Walker was elected Right Worthy Grand Secretary-Treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a black social and civic organization. In 1902, Walker founded the order newspaper, St. Luke Herald, and in 1903 she opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank with herself as president. By 1920, the bank had loaned money to purchase 600 homes.

In 1930, the bank merged with two other black-owned banks in Richmond to become the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company with Walker as chairman of the board. The bank continues to operate today as the oldest continuously operating minority-owned bank in the country. As a result of Walker’s business acumen, the order became financially successful and by 1924 had 100,000 members, 1500 local chapters, and assets of almost $400,000. Walker served as the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke and chairman of the bank until her death. Walker became a wealthy woman and philanthropist. She was the founder and lifelong head of the Colored Women’s Council of Richmond, which raised money for local projects and maintained a community house.

She was the co-founder and vice president of the Richmond branch of the NAACP and served on the national board for ten years. She also served as a trustee of Hartshorn College and Virginia Union University. The National Park Service operates the Maggie L. Walker Historical site and there is the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond. In 2001, Walker was posthumously inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. “Maggie L. Walker and the I. O. of St. Luke: The Woman and Her Work” was published in 1927.

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