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Courtesy Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
In addition to her numerous public functions, Maggie Walker was also a wife and mother -- a busy life many of 2014 can understand. Here, around 1895, Walker poses with sons Russell (left) and Melvin (right). Troubled Russell died at age 33 and Melvin at 38.
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Walker's Emporium at 112 E. Broad St. served a vitalpurpose at a time when African Americans wererestricted from white stores. Few passersbyknow of its importance.
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Courtesy of Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site
Founded in 1921, the National Association of Wage Earners sought to foster skills, pride, and organization for African American domestic workers. Maggie Walker served as an active member in the group which was headed by her friends Nannie Helen Burroughs and Mary McLeod Bethune.
Maggie Lena Walker, the banker, businesswoman and community leader, could’ve shopped anywhere in 1890s Richmond. But due to Jim Crow-era segregation laws, the only time she could go to Thalhimer's was at night. Walker opened up her own emporium at 112 E. Broad St., administrated by the Independent Order of St. Luke that also trained young black women for retail work. This weekend the Maggie Walker National Historic Site is commemorating the 150th anniversary of her birth.
The redoubtable Walker embodied African American do-it-yourself industry at a time in Richmond when society was split on racial and class lines. She inspired those who knew her. And in Richmond, she’s a name that floats around in our consciousness of the city’s history without really knowing her as a person.
This weekend, her home that was the center for four generations of family life and is today a national landmark and house museum administrated by the National Park Service, invites the public to come learn about this flesh-and-blood woman who overcame numerous challenges to become an icon. And on the evening of her birthday, July 15, in the sanctuary of Third Street Bethel AME Church, there will be a program of readings from letters, newspapers and reminisces of people who knew Walker in life. One of those participatingis Walker’s great-great granddaughter, 16-year-old Faith Elizabeth “Liza” Mickens.
On Saturday, though, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Maggie Walker House hosts a series of activities for the public to commemorate Walker’s memory.
A highlight of the day is a two-hour, ranger-led bus tour, “Maggie Walker’s Richmond,” which will take visitors around to show sites associated with her life and work. The program was put together by curator Ethan Bullard and ranger Ben Anderson. Bullard says, “It’s the first time, to my knowledge, that we’ve taken people off-site in this way.”
The tour is designed to travel two histories joined: that of Walker’s and the impact of 20th century urban renewal (and destruction) on the “evolving urban landscape,” as one might, using a restrained euphemism, describe how in the past century Richmond sliced through, plowed under and paved over its history, African American and otherwise.
You will see where once stood the Van Lew mansion before its terraced gardens — where Walker grew up, the daughter of a former slave, as a servant in Elizabeth Van Lew’s household. Van Lew was an active Unionist in Civil War Richmond who served as a conduit for a spy ring. Her massive house was demolished to make way for the Bellevue Elementary School. The house where newlywed Walker lived was taken away by an interstate ramp. Her emporium was at 112 E. Broad, where many people pass by every day.
The courtyard of the Maggie Walker House will feature a “Common Good Fair” comprised of organizations representing areas close to Walker — that of education, finance and community engagement.
There’s also Girl Scout artwork and a recognition ceremony for the young creators and participants in Summer Youth Leadership Institute, sponsored by the site and the Future of Richmond’s Past.
At 6 p.m., Tuesday, the presentation of “We Cannot Stand Alone” — A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Maggie Lena Walker” will take place. This comes out of the park’s “Voices of the Past” program.
Bullard says, “It’s based on a 1924 program called the “The Testimonial of Love,” which was produced during her lifetime by the Independent Order of St. Luke, a near-dormant organiztion that she took to far greater levels than anyone expected. These are the words of Mrs. Walker’s contemporaries, the people who knew her best.” Walker in later years was debilitated by diabetes — she installed elevators in the house and affixed wheels to chairs — and she died in 1934.
We should all of us, as Richmonders, know her better.