With Black History Month upon us, it’s a perfect time to look back at some revolutionary black figures in American history. Although there are countless notable figures to talk about, this year we’re going to focus on and commemorate one extremely inspirational and understated character: Maggie L. Walker.
Maggie Lena Walker was a humanitarian, women’s and black’s rights activist. Born in Richmond, Virginia in 1864 and raised by her eventually widowed mother Elizabeth Draper, a former slave, she first began to make a change as a teenager. She joined the local Baltimore council of Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal burial society administered to the sick and aged, which promoted humanitarian causes and encouraged individual self-help and integrity, according to the National Park Service. She eventually went on to gain full leadership of the organization as Right Worthy Grand Secretary, and exponentially increased the number of councils across the nation.
By her late thirties, Walker had established her own newspaper, and founded and served as president at the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, effectively making her not only the first African American woman, but the first American woman to charter a bank in the United States. She eventually merged the bank with two others, resulting in what became the oldest African American owned bank in the country until 2009.
Additionally, she served on the board of trustees for several women’s American’s rights groups including National Association of Colored Women and the Virginia Industrial School for Girls, and was elected vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
In a post-civil war era, during which African American women were one of the most highly ostracized and underrepresented demographics, Maggie L. Walker proved everyone wrong while proving right the concept of the American dream. She let absolutely nothing get in her way, and effectively accomplished incredible things.