The Maggie L. Walker Statue and Plaza is located on West Broad Street, one of Richmond’s major thoroughfares. It is the city’s first monument to a woman and one of a few dedicated to a person of color. Maggie Lena Walker (1864–1934) was a leading figure in the quest for the social and financial advancement of African Americans. The daughter of a formerly enslaved woman and white immigrant father, Walker became a prominent business leader in Richmond, establishing a newspaper, the St. Luke Herald, in 1902, and the following year chartering the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank, making her the first woman (of any race) to do so. In addition to serving as vice president of the Richmond chapter of the NAACP, Walker also focused her efforts on women’s rights, serving on the board of trustees for organizations like the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the Virginia Industrial School for Girls.
The concept for a monument to Walker began soon after her death in 1934. But it was not until after the successful installation of the Arthur Ashe Statue on Monument Avenue that efforts were revived in the late 1990s. Richmond’s Public Art Committee advocated over the next decade and ultimately selected Antonio Tobias “Toby” Mendez, a Maryland-based artist known for his realistic public sculptures, as the winner of the design competition. The 10-foot-tall bronze figure rests atop a round granite base, which features three low-relief bronze panels depicting Walker as banker, entrepreneur, and educator, respectively. The round plaza surrounding the statue, designed by VBH of Boston, incorporates ten black granite benches inscribed with important dates and events in Walker’s life. The statue and plaza form the gateway to Jackson Ward, a historically Black neighborhood, where many of Walker’s business enterprises were located. The neighborhood is also home to Walker’s residence, now a National Historic Site, which is located a few blocks away.
Marlowe, Woodruff Gertrude. A Right Worthy Grand Mission: Maggie Lena Walker and the Quest for Black. Washington D.C.: Howard University Press, 2003.