Travis Lewis

Africana Studies
Dr. Douglas
03/29/2014

Maggie Lena Walker: An African American Entrepreneur and Civic Leader

Maggie Lena Walker was an African American entrepreneur, teacher, and civic leader.
According to biographical material she supplied, Walker was born as Maggie Lena Mitchell in
Richmond, Virginia to her parents William and Elizabeth Draper Mitchell. She was born on July
15, 1864; which was two years and two months after the conclusion of the American Civil War.
Walker’s mother was a slave who worked in the kitchen of Elizabeth Van Lew. Elizabeth
Van Lew was a Richmond Unionist and abolitionist who spied for the United States government
during the American Civil War (1861–1865). Leading a network of a dozen or so white and
African American women and men, she relayed information on Confederate operations to Union
generals and assisted in the care and sometimes escape of Union prisoners of war being held in
the Confederate capital.
In 1881, while still in school, Walker had joined the Independent Order of St. Luke, an
African American fraternal society. The United Order of St. Luke, the Independent Order's
progenitor, was founded by Mary Prout in 1867 as a Baltimore-based women's mutual insurance
society that provided for the care of the sick and the burial of the dead. On the eve of the
Independent Order's bankruptcy, Walker was elected to replace Forrester as Grand Secretary, a
position she kept until her death. Under Walker's guidance, the Independent Order of St. Luke's
fortunes were completely reversed. Although she inherited the order deep in deficit, over the
twenty-five years of her leadership it collected nearly $3.5 million, claimed 100,000 members in
twenty-four states, and built up almost $100,000 in reserve. On August 20
th
, 1901, Walker gave a
now famous speech before the Independent Order's council. In her speech she declared her vision
“to take the organization to greater heights by creating a conglomerate; a bank chartered and
operated by the order's members, a newspaper to herald the good news of the order, and a
department store run by black employees and geared to black consumers with goods they wanted
at more affordable prices than those of white retailers.” Within five years, Walker guided each of
these enterprises to success: The St. Luke Herald began operation in 1902, the St. Luke Penny
Savings Bank opened for business in November 1903, and the St. Luke Emporium was in
operation by April 1905.
During the Great Depression, while other banks failed, Walker kept the St. Luke Penny
Savings Bank alive by merging it with two other banks to create the Consolidated Bank and
Trust Company in 1929. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the bank continued to exist
and was the oldest bank in the United States that has been continuously run by African
Americans.
Maggie Lena Walker died on December 15, 1934, of diabetic gangrene, but her legacy
still lives on. The Consolidated Bank and Trust company is still alive and running today in
Virginia. Maggie Lena Walker is now known for being the first woman in the United States to
become a president of a local bank.


Bibliography:
http://www.biography.com/people/maggie-lena-walker-9522099
http://encyclopediavirginia.org/Maggie_Lena_Walker_1864-1934
http://www.distinguishedwomen.com/biographies/walker-ml.html

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