Maggie L. Walker’s personal and professional papers donated to NPS

Free Press staff report | 12/10/2020, 6 p.m.
Thirty boxes of letters and other documents from the desk of Richmond great Maggie L. Walker are now in the …
Mrs. Walker

Thirty boxes of letters and other documents from the desk of Richmond great Maggie L. Walker are now in the hands of the National Park Service.

The collection of more than 15,000 documents has come to the NPS’ Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in donation from the Stallings family, which owns the former Jackson Ward headquarters building from which Mrs. Walker ran a bank and other operations of the Independent Order of St. Luke.

The gift announced Monday includes items from Mrs. Walker’s personal and professional correspondence as well as records of the fraternal order she ran for nearly 35 years.

According to the park service, the treasure trove nearly doubles Mrs. Walker’s known written legacy and adds to an already significant library of documents at the historic site that have been available to the public and scholars for four decades.

In addition to documenting the internal operations of the fraternal order, the new documents include letters to and from Mrs. Walker and her civil rights peers, including W.E.B. DuBois, Nannie Helen Burroughs and Mary McLeod Bethune.

Other tangential material includes booklets, certificates and published reports from the NAACP, the National Association of Colored Women and Richmond’s Council of Colored Women.

“We are indebted to the generosity of Margaret, Wanda, and Ron Stallings for this incredible collection,” stated Doyle Sapp, superintendent of the Richmond National Battlefield Park that operates the Maggie Walker National Historic Site at 1101⁄2 E. Leigh St., which was Mrs. Walker’s home in Jackson Ward.

He said the documents will shed new information “on the dimensions of Mrs. Walker’s contributions to the progress of women and African-Americans in Jim Crow America.”

The Stallings family had owned the papers since the late James R. Stallings Sr. purchased the fraternal order’s former headquarters, which has since been converted recently into apartments and commercial space.

The papers traveled to the College of William & Mary more than 10 years ago where they were protected, indexed and transcribed as part of a student history project and were returned to the family in 2017.

During Mrs. Walker’s tenure that began in 1899 and lasted until her death in 1934, the Independent Order of St. Luke launched a newspaper, a department store and the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank, the first bank chartered and run by a Black woman in the nation.

The Stallings’ donation of papers will be processed and ultimately digitized for greater accessibility.

“Maggie Walker never wrote a memoir or autobiography,” according to curator Ethan Bullard. “Instead, she trusted her supporters and future researchers to tell her story. With this profound new resource, Mrs. Walker’s legacy is ripe for a fresh generation of nuanced and insightful scholarship.”