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Eighty-three years ago, young civil

rights giant-to-be Ferguson Reid and

aging social activist and legend, Maggie

L. Walker were neighbors.

Ferguson “Fergie” Reid would become

the first African American to be elected

to the Virginia General Assembly since

Reconstruction. He also co-founded

the Richmond Crusade of Voters, and

continued working into his nineties

to strengthen voter registration and


His neighbor, Maggie L. Walker, was already a civil and

women’s rights pioneer: founder of

The St. Luke Herald

newspaper, head of a nationwide insurance agency, and the first

African American woman to charter a bank. Her efforts trailblazing

financial independence were focused on African Americans,

women, and oppressed minorities with limited access to the

services she provided.

In the 1930s, Reid was a child, spending his time playing with

Walker’s grandchildren, sliding down banisters, and accompanying

the family on Memorial Day picnics and cemetery visits, complete

with limousines, flowers, and bologna sandwiches.

“She’d put all of us in her limousine and take us to the various

cemeteries that she had relatives buried in,” recounted Reid.

“Flowers on graves. Lunch for the kids. Specifically, I remember,”

Reid paused and chuckled, “one of the favorite meats was bologna

on white bread with yellow mustard. That’s what we would have in

the picnic basket with drinks and dessert things.”

The Reid family shared an address with the Walker household:

110 East Leigh Street. The houses were adjacent to one another,

and the copycat address led to mix ups.

Once, young Reid remembers opening the door to a dignified

man with a mustache and fine pointed goatee. He was looking for

Mrs. Walker, and Ferguson politely directed him next door.

“I didn’t know who it was until years later,” Reid recounted,

his voice holding an air of amazement. “I was flipping through

history books and found his picture. That was when I realized who

it was. MaggieWalker andW. E. B. Dubois were friendly with each


Walker was born nearly seventy years prior to this in July of

1867. Walker’s mother, a former slave, pushed for her to receive

a quality education. Walker excelled at the Lancaster School of

the Quakers. On the evening of her graduation, she participated

in the first recorded school

strike by African Americans

in the United States. The

graduating class of 1883

stated that “our parents pay

taxes just the same as you

white folks, and you’ve got

no business spending big

money out of those taxes to

pay for the theater for white

children unless you do the

same for black children.”

Walker continued to

challenge the status quo

throughout her life. After

her graduation she became

involved in the Independent

Order of St. Luke’s, an

independent aid society. By

1899 she became the president of the organization and was able

to turn the financial tides from near bankruptcy to profitable. In

1902 she founded the St. Luke’s Herald, in order to communicate

the work of the Order of St. Luke’s to local chapters. In 1903 she

founded the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank, allowing African

Americans a place to deposit and borrow funds in a Jim Crow

world that barred access.

She asked her neighbor, friend, and fellow NAACP member,

Reid’s father Leon Reid, to be one of the trustees. He stayed on as

a trustee until he died.

Another of Walker’s accomplishments was to open up a

department store on Broad Street in Richmond aimed at serving

African Americans.

“She worked to advance Blacks,” explained Reid. “And

because Blacks could not shop in various department stores, she

had her department store on Broad Street. She was very active with

that and advancing black business.”

She led a bank merger in 1930 with two other smaller black-

owned banks in Richmond, keeping her business afloat as many

banks collapsed under the financial strain brought on by the Great


Ferguson Reid’s memories of Walker take place during those

early years of the Great Depression toward the end of Walker’s life.

“At that time a lot of the kids in the neighborhood were in

various quartets, and they’d sing hymns and songs in front of her

house,” recalled Reid. “She would always send someone down

to give them some money. During the Depression you could buy

bread for 10 cents. The money she gave them was quite a bit of

money for that time period.”


Maggie Lena Walker

By Lydia Freeman