This summer, the Maggie Walker Memorial unveiling drew crowds of hundreds to her monument at the gateway of the Jackson Ward neighborhood in Richmond, VA. The piece by sculptor Toby Mendez was unveiled July 15, 2017, on what would have been Maggie’s 153rd birthday.
Monuments like this are important in a city like Richmond, where Confederate ghosts loom. This unveiling marked the first stand-alone female statue in the city of Richmond. This woman, born in 1864 of a newly freed slave and an Irish father, spent her life advocating for the advancement of Black people as well as Black women in Richmond after slavery. Through her work with the Independent Order of Saint Luke, she was able to start a newspaper, open an emporium (on what was at one time “all-white” Broad Street) in the same block where this very monument stands, and she became the first woman to found and charter a bank in the country. The St. Luke Emporium became the largest employer of Black females in Richmond, at a time when many Black women were beginning their careers as servants. She sought economic empowerment for her race and her gender. During the stock market crash of 1929, she kept her bank open by merging with other Black-owned Richmond banks.
For Maggie, the motive behind all her work was her community. She recognized the importance of a unified people. This statue offers a perfect example of community engagement. Maggie stands at an approachable height in the center of a plaza surrounded by benches outlining her life story. By having an approachable memorial, people can have an area to have conversations about why her life’s work was so important and what we can do to continue that work. Maggie believed in education. By having this public art in the center of the city, it serves to educate people who may not have known her and her contributions.
My name is Liza Mickens. I am the great, great-granddaughter of Maggie Walker and am truly honored and humbled to be related to this magnificent woman. She is an important character not only in Richmond history, but also in the history of African Americans and women. I am blessed to be able to tell her story and even more grateful to be able to drive down Broad Street in Richmond and see her standing in her rightful place. Not too many people are able to say their relatives are memorialized with a statue, much less in a city where they were born and raised. In a place like Richmond, statues tend to bring up a different image of monuments. It is integral that we continue to create public art works that tell the complete story of a city. In her time, Maggie Walker was often referred to by her community as “our inspiration.” She now stands forever memorialized as an inspiration to us all.