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

assessments, staff the printing shop, and manufacture regalia, but the new enterprise, to be managed and run almost entirely by women, was eagerly anticipated. On [Jan. 15, 1905], more than five hundred people came to a mass meeting held at St. Luke Hall and unanimously decided to proceed with the Emporium. The sale of stock started with each department of the Order subscribing to purchase shares. Maggie Walker was president; Joseph Meyers was vice president and probably managed the store, since he is shown among the employees; Emmett Burke, the bank’s cashier, became treasurer; and the bank’s assistant cashier, Mary Dawson, was secretary. This time, all 26 board members — 18 women and eight men — could qualify with the purchase of only $50 worth of stock. How many of them actually did is not indicated in the available record. James Hayes arranged for the Emporium’s charter, which was granted March 13, 1905. …

There was also discussion of how to instill race pride in school children, to increase their knowledge of African American history, leaders, and literature, an area many felt was neglected. Savings banks were praised as a major instrument for mobility of impoverished peoples. W.P. Burrell gave a paper reviewing the history of black savings and loan institutions and noted that most blacks in Virginia kept their money in white banks. He explained how building and loan associations worked and gave stern examples of the practices of loan sharks — which made bank loans much more preferable. …

The bank moved into its new building in October 1905, and the Emporium followed in late November. The bank was put in the dry goods department, a location, which some people criticized or ridiculed, but which was calculated to draw trade. The bank was growing slowly but steadily, having handled by January 1906 almost $170,000. Loans and mortgages had become a large portion of its business. Each one had to be passed by the St. Luke board, but it was possible for small depositors to be heard. Brown points out that many of the bank’s loyal supporters were laundresses. The classic tale is that of the one-legged shoeshine boy who by thrift, faithful saving, and judicious borrowing, was able to buy a parlor with three chairs, a house for himself, and one for his mother, all on 3% interest. The community function of George Bailey and his bank, and its precariousness, as portrayed in one of America’s favorite films, It’s a Wonderful Life, comes very close to the spirit of the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. …

These had been years of extraordinary activity and a great deal of accomplishment for Walker and St. Luke, with the establishment of a newspaper and printing business, a new building, a bank, and a store. Things were about to change. While it was not yet apparent, the exciting era of St. Luke’s expansion into new business was over.

Postscript
In January 1919, the Commercial Bank and Trust Company was chartered. As a new African American bank,

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