Statue of Richmond pioneer Maggie L. Walker unveiled to cheers at gateway to Jackson Ward
7/21/2017, 11:15 a.m.
By Saraya Wintersmith
Richmond residents and officials rejoiced Saturday morning as the long-awaited statue of hometown hero Maggie Lena Walker was unveiled.
With a strong tug by Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney, sculptor Antonio “Toby” Mendez of Maryland and Mrs. Walker’s great-great-granddaughter Liza Mickens, off flew a black drape covering the 10-foot bronze statue.
The figure of Mrs. Walker and the accomplishments and contributions of the woman it represents were met by applause from the hundreds of people gathered around the plaza at Broad and Adams streets in Downtown where the statue stands.
“Many Richmonders have ancestors who began their careers not as servants, but as bank tellers, accountants, sales people, auditors and insurance writers because of Grandma Walker,” Ms. Mickens said in brief remarks to the crowd.
“Many Richmonders are here today, swelling with pride along with her family, as we unveil this statute of a woman, marking her own accomplishments on the streets of our city which she dearly loved.”
Dozens in the audience nodded and voiced their assent as the 19-year-old Ms. Mickens, one of about 30 Walker descendants at the ceremony, fought back tears to continue.
“Today, Maggie Walker stands here in her rightful place, in the heart of Richmond standing over her city. She stands as a marker to the gateway of Jackson Ward, a place where, through her hard work, she inspired her race as well as her gender to pursue a better life.”
Mrs. Walker, the daughter of a former slave, was the first African-American woman to charter and operate a bank in the United States. Despite the many obstacles of the time, the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke benevolent society published the St. Luke Herald newspaper beginning in 1902, founded the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in 1903, opened a department store Downtown in 1904, and was a civil rights activist who encouraged community uplift and empowerment through education, voting and supporting black-owned businesses.
The plaza dedicated to Mrs. Walker has pedestals and paving that detail her many roles and accomplishments in the city before her death in 1934.
Unveiled on what would have been Mrs. Walker’s 153rd birthday, the statue is the first in Richmond singularly devoted to a woman.
The statue was dedicated as debate begins in earnest over public monuments in Richmond and what they represent, particularly those on Monument Avenue honoring Confederates who fought and lost a war to keep African-Americans in bondage.
Mayor Stoney, who recently announced the creation of the Monument Avenue Commission to “tell the real story,” briefly alluded to the controversy in his remarks at the ceremony before the unveiling.
“As you know, Richmond has many monuments. And you know how I feel about those,” he said to chuckles and murmurs among the crowd. “I can assure you this will be my favorite monument in the city of Richmond.” The crowd roared with applause.
Mayor Stoney then vowed that Mrs. Walker’s monument will not be the last of its kind.
“I feel like victory is won today,” said Melvin S. Jones Jr., a member of the Maggie L. Walker High School Class of 1965, after reciting lines from the anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”