Maggie Lena Walker: The Making Of A Black Bank

America's first woman president of a financial institution founded one of the nation's oldest surviving black-owned banks

the [Right Worthy Grand] Council (the one elected in 1901) was named as the board of directors. [Walker was a member of that Executive Committee.] Each member had to own $100 of paid-up stock. From the beginning, there was an attempt to attract money from outside the state, initially through the St. Luke network. From the beginning, Walker was considered to “enjoy the unique distinction of being the only female bank president in the United States.” Shortly after the charter was granted, she went north on a tour and gave several speeches about the bank, urging councils to make deposits. Walker had been invited to join the Virginia Bankers Association — an invitation none of the male presidents of the other three black banks had received. She accepted the invitation and remarked, “I shall hope to conduct myself so as to reflect credit upon my race and people. …”

The dream had been to have a bank run by women, but when the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank opened in St. Luke Hall on November 2, 1903, the cashier was Emmett C. Burke, recruited from the True Reformers Bank, where he had been head bookkeeper. He was paid $50 a month. Burke was an inspired choice, competent, and loyal. He had both “ability and character.” He worked very well with Walker and was able to confront her when necessary for the good of the bank, such as over the suitability of her sons’ behavior when they worked there. In contrast with the Order, there was never any serious question of succession at the St. Luke bank once Walker let go of the fantasy that one of her sons would take over. …

In fall 1904, the St. Luke bank bought a three-story brick building at 112 Broad Street for $13,500, payable in two years. Extensive renovations were necessary to fit it out for the bank (which needed a brick vault) and proposed store ([called the Emporium] which required an elevator). Rather than wait until the renovations were finished to open the Emporium, Walker decided to rent a building at 6 West Broad Street that belonged to John Mitchell. Broad Street was a choice location and was also the dividing line between black activities on the north side and white activities on the south. This division has been so much a part of Richmond social history that in 1985 when Richmond Renaissance asked the Rouse Enterprise Development Corporation to design a central shopping area for the city, the design featured a bridge across Broad Street because the mayor “realized that Richmond would not get anywhere as long as it was seen as a racially divided city.”

Of all the St. Luke projects, the Emporium was symbolically crucial because it was to provide the employment for women that [were] the cornerstone of St. Luke’s development program. The bank, after all, only employed two people besides the officers at this time. The Order was growing in the number of employees needed to process the endowment

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