Remembering Maggie Lena Walker: The Making Of A Black Bank

Walker became the country's first woman president of a financial institution and founded one of the nation's oldest surviving black-owned banks

Business League. …

Walker’s exhortatory approach to community development presents cooperative economics as a strategy arising from core community values, but one in need of the kind of policing DuBois describes. As her speeches show, St. Luke members also saw it as a confrontational response to segregation. Others observing racial and economic dynamics at the turn of the 20th century agreed, as evidenced by public statements such as, “The almighty dollar is the magic wand that knocks the bottom out of race prejudice.…”

By 1900, there were two African American banks in Richmond: the True Reformers and the Nickel Savings Bank. The Nickel Savings Bank was also known as “Dr. Tancil’s bank,” since physician Richard F. Tancil was its president, and it operated out of his East End home for many years after its founding in 1896. …Nickel Savings Bank was always small, not having started out as a depository for fraternal funds. Eventually, the Nickel Savings Bank’s cashier, Mr. Bass, organized a fraternal organization called the People’s Relief Association, and the bank became known as the People’s Bank. …

In the midst of the summer’s community turmoil, Maggie Walker made her big move at the 1901 St. Luke Convention. Besides reporting a modest net growth of the Order, less than 700 new members, she outlined a plan for expanding its activities. Couched in her best “Onward Christian Soldiers” style, Walker described the army, recruited from the ranks of professionals, businessmen, and working men and women, that was ready to march bearing aloft the cross.…

First, she called for a savings bank, to be run by the men and women of the Order. She painted a word picture of the growth of money — the first part of which is carved on the memorial stone in front of the present Consolidated Bank and Trust building: “Let us put our monies together; let us use our [monies]” let us put our monies at usury among ourselves, and realize the benefit ourselves. Shall we longer continue to bury our talent, wrapped in a napkin and hidden away, when it ought to be gaining us still other talents. …”

For several months in 1903, in preparation for the bank opening, Walker spent two hours a day at the Merchants National Bank of Richmond, studying the way things were done.…

Since everyone firmly believed that banks were the pinnacle of financial achievement, never mind their size, black banks were proof, and cited as such, that conditions were favorable for African Americans in the South. None of the black banks belonged to the clearing house system for check cashing because the fee was steep, but the white merchants of Richmond demanded of the national banks that the black banks be accommodated, on threat of withdrawing their own deposits; so each cleared through a member, either free or for a small fee.

James Hayes drew up the charter for the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, which was granted by Virginia’s newly created Corporation Commission on July 28, 1903. The Executive Committee of the

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