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Graduates of the former Maggie Walker High School take part in the groundbreaking at the site of a new monument to the Richmond trailblazer. (Photo by Cole Smith)
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Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones addresses those gathered at the groundbreaking for the Maggie L. Walker Memorial Plaza. At left is Gov. Terry McAuliffe. (Photo by Cole Smith)
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The groundbreaking ceremony drew a crowd of supporters. (Photo by Cole Smith)
Richmond leaders broke ground Thursday for the Maggie L. Walker Memorial Plaza at the intersections of Brook Road, Broad Street and Adams Street downtown. The monument commemorating the famous Jackson Ward resident will stand as a centerpiece for the location. The city's Public Art Commission, which approved the design in August, says it chose the site because it is located at “an important entryway into the Jackson Ward community.”
"We lift up her legacy and we are proud to be able to recognize her as the great woman that she was,” says Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones. “And if anyone deserves to have a monument on Broad Street, it’s Maggie Lena Walker.”
The project was not without controversy, as some residents and conservationists opposed the decision to cut down a large oak tree in the center of the triangular park where the memorial will be erected. Some also voiced displeasure with the planned closure of the triangle’s small section of Brook Road and questioned the price. While the statue and pedestal was estimated to cost $300,000, the construction of the surrounding plaza will add another $600,000.
But there were no protests at Thursday’s ceremony; instead, the mood was one of relief and triumph. Marilyn Alston, a teacher and 1965 graduate of Maggie L. Walker High School, attended the event, saying it’s long overdue.
“I taught for 38 years in New York and Richmond, retiring from VCU after 26 years,” Alston says. “It’s not easy out here. But thanks to the education I got from Maggie Walker, I was able to do all the things I wanted to do. She is a wonderful role model.”
Also in attendance was Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who spoke briefly about Walker.
“She never was going to let herself be defined by others,” McAuliffe told the crowd. “She built a successful life for herself and she most importantly built a successful life for thousands of African-Americans throughout this state and throughout the United States of America.”
An advocate for African-American rights, Walker was the first woman bank founder and president in the United States. The project is expected to be completed in the spring of 2017.