“Richmond has an amazing history and a lot of people have come out of this space that folks don’t know,” says Enjoli Moon, a longtime Richmond resident. Moon is advisory board chair for BLK RVA, a partnership between Richmond Area Tourism and the Black Experience Initiative. BLK RVA creates opportunities for visitors to connect with this history. Moon continues, “Because some people have had such a hard time here, they might not tout Richmond, the way that some other cities get touted.” Maggie Lena Walker is a prime example of the Richmond history and culture that should be more well-known.

Walker was born in Richmond, VA—the capital of the Confederacy—one year before the end of the Civil War. Her mother, Elizabeth Draper Mitchell, was formerly enslaved and worked as a laundress. Walker’s biological father, Eccles Cuthbert, was an Irish immigrant and reporter for The New York Herald. Walker was raised by her stepfather William Mitchell, however, from her birth until he was found dead in 1876.

Walker grew to such a place of prominence in Richmond society that today, in Richmond’s historically Black district Jackson Ward, there is a statue erected in her honor and one of the city’s numerous murals bear her likeness. Walker’s home, now a National Parks Service historic site where they offer walking tours regularly, was declared a landmark in 1975.

Located on 1101/2 East Leigh Street, it stood on Richmond’s “Quality Row” very similar to Harlem’s “Strivers Row,” right off North Second Street, Richmond’s “Black Wall Street.” Donated to the public by her descendants in 1979, almost all the furnishings and accessories belonged to Walker during her life.

Walker was determined that her home be a symbol of what was possible for all Black Americans. The Victorian brick home boasted two floors as well as a carriage house. A baby grand piano proudly sits in one of the house’s two parlors. The library walls are lined with all the literary classics and pictures of numerous prominent African-Americans of the day with whom Walker was acquainted, such as Booker T. Washingtom and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. There was a playroom and a fully-equipped laundry room. A modern stove and a custom designed ice-box dominates the kitchen. Fine china, silverware, and crystal in the formal dining room further punctuate both Walker’s status as a wealthy businesswoman and community leader, not to mention her discerning tastes. Red roses, Walker’s favorite flower, in the form of wallpaper, bouquets, etc. dot the decor throughout the home.

Walker also faced disability with the attitude of a champion. Having lost the use of her legs later in life due to diabetes, she had a custom-made upholstered wheelchair created. The chair had a desktop attached so that she could use it both as an easy chair and as a place to get work done. No longer able to use the stairs, Walker also had an elevator installed in her home.

Not far from the Walker home stands a 10 foot tall statue in her likeness. Erected in her honor just a few years ago, it’s just feet away from Premier Bank. Walker was the founder and president of the previous iteration of that bank, the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Walker, who also founded a newspaper, is the first woman (of any race) in the United States to be president of a bank.

Though awarded an honorary degree by Virginia Union University, Walker never got the chance to go to school. Still, she was a formidable and progressive figure throughout most of her life and championed the progress of all Black women. Named in her honor is the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, located about a mile and a half from the statue.

The foundation for virtually all of Walker’s social and commercial efforts was The Independent Order of St. Luke, which Walker had joined as a teen, a fraternal organization originally founded by another woman, Mary Prout, in Baltimore, MD in 1867. At a time when white insurance companies didn’t provide insurance for Blacks, the Independent Order of St. Luke provided services for the ill and the burial of the dead.

The building out of which Walker did all of her business, the St. Luke Building was also declared a landmark, being listed on the National Register of Historical Places in the early 1980s. Walker had the building erected after creating a joint-stock association that purchased the property. A driven business woman until the end, Walker succumbed to illness in 1934 but her spirit lives on throughout Richmond.

For more information about Maggie L. Walker statue, house and other sites related to the Richmond Black experience, go to www.visitblkrva.com.