Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of blog posts regarding Virginia female newspaper editors by our Transforming the Future of Libraries and Archives Intern for 2023, Elena Cario. Elena is majoring in English at Christopher Newport University. She worked with the Library’s Virginia Newspaper Program during the summer of 2023. Keep an eye out for the final installment in the coming months.
Afierce businesswoman, Maggie L. Walker publicly joined the fight for African American and women’s rights in the early 1900s. Most commonly known as the first Black woman in the U.S. to operate a bank, (the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank) Walker inspired other people in Richmond’s Black community and took part in the transformation of Jackson Ward into what was known at the time as “Black Wall Street”.
Walker’s bank was extremely successful, even surviving the Great Depression when other banks across the U.S. closed. St. Luke Penny Savings Bank eventually merged with two other Black-owned banks in 1930 and was renamed Consolidated Bank & Trust. It is still in operation today under the name Peoples Bank, and is located at 320 N. 1st Street in Richmond. Adjacent to the Peoples Bank entrance, there is a mural commemorating Walker.
Before she was a successful banker, Walker was the managing editor of the St. Luke Herald, a newspaper that began around 1901. The newspaper, published every Saturday in Richmond by the Right Worthy Grand Council of St. Luke’s, presented current news for Richmond’s Black community. As the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke, Walker knew a newspaper “is an organ…to herald and proclaim the work of our Order. No business, no enterprise, which has to deal with the public, can be pushed successfully without a newspaper, a trumpet to sound the orders”1.
Walker’s newspaper included numerous articles on current racial issues going on in the world. Occasionally, her bold editorials on racial injustice triggered severe responses from newspapers such as the News Leader, which catered to Richmond’s white readers. On 29 August 1904, the News Leader in an article titled, “Fight Them, Kill Them” responded to an editorial attributed to Walker, written in response to the brutal burning of Paul Reed and Will Cato in Statesboro, Georgia on 16 August 1904. “The burning of two men at Statesboro, Ga. last week does not shock us,” she wrote, “It used to, but now on arising each morning, we simply look to see how many negro men, women and children the brave (?) Christian (?) white men of the South have murdered.”2 She goes on to advocate fighting to the death rather than succumbing to a lynch mob. In response to the article, the News Leader claimed that, “Police commissioners [had] been called to-night to consider what action can be taken to punish the editor. Suppression of the paper is being discussed.”3
Walker responded to the News Leader in her 3 September 1904 issue as she called out the facts behind the mistreatment of African American men, women, and children. “The Herald would not say one word knowingly and intentionally, to set aflame race prejudice,” she wrote, “but on the contrary, it has again and again, and does now appeal to honest, fair-minded white men to exert their influence in behalf of our poor, down-trodden, helpless, inoffensive race which is being daily murdered for crimes of which they are not guilty, and are not proven guilty.”4
Along with the News Leader, Walker also brought the Washington Post’s racial bias to light. Walker called the Post, “the leading Negro hating paper in the country,” highlighting an editorial on the Statesboro lynching published in the paper on 19 August 1904.5 The Post blamed a “worthless white” for the lynching of the men, stating, “The Post has often identified and discussed the class of Southern whites from which, in nineteen cases out of twenty, the lynchers are drawn.”6
The article went on to explain that the “high class Southerner values the industrious negro far above the shiftless and vicious white as a member of civilized society.”7 The Post editorial placed the blame for the lynching of Reed and Cato on white “ruffians” and those representing crime, ignorance and degradation as opposed to those with “wealth and worth.”8 However, in the same issue, another article describing the scene claimed “one well-known business man” led the lynch mob and that officials tasked with protecting Cato and Reed allowed the two men to be taken.9 The Post’s description of the incident seemed to contradict the editorial in the same issue.
In response, Walker pointed out, using the Post’s own words, that rather than criminals, “one well-known business man” led the mob and that the white officers and sheriff responsible for watching Cato and Reed made no effort to protect them from the crowd intent on their murder. This, in Walker’s eyes, was the epitome of a “worthless white,” a white individual whose job was to protect and serve all, but who looked the other way when it came to African Americans. “The Post is wrong. ‘The criminal and worthless white’ is not responsible for the bloody crimes of the South,” Walker concluded in her retort to the Post, instead, it was also men considered “respected” members of society.10
Along with her position as president of a bank and editor of a paper, Walker was a leader of the African American community, and held high standing in many of the organizations she was involved with. This included her involvement with the National Association of Colored Women (NACW) and the Richmond chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). To learn more about Maggie L. Walker’s life, check out the National Women’s History Museum, along with Walker’s home, located in Richmond at 600 N. 2nd Street which is designated as a historical site and is open to all visitors. There is also a statue of Walker, located in Richmond where West Broad meets North Adams, to commemorate her outstanding life. Her statue stands across from the mural of another Richmond newspaper legend, John Mitchell, Jr.
Walker's Response to the Post
St. Luke Herald, September 03, 1904.
Unlike other women editors that we have covered in this series thus far, whose focus was on literature, Maggie Walker cared about reporting and informing her subscribers about current events.
The St. Luke Herald was clearly successful, even claiming in 1929 to have eclipsed the Richmond Planet in local circulation. Walker died 15 December 1934, but her newspaper carried on as the St. Luke Fraternal Bulletin, which was published until at least 1958. The St. Luke Herald is not yet digitized, but you can currently find it on microfilm at the Library of Virginia.
- Lauranett L. Lee, “Maggie Lena Draper Mitchell Walker (1864–1934),” Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2020 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Walker_Maggie_Lena, accessed 2023-10-19).
- “Fight Them, Kill Them”, New Leader, August 29, 1904, page 1.
- “Our Reply to the News-Leader”, St. Luke’s Herald, September 03, 1904.
- “Who Are the Lynchers?”, St. Luke’s Herald, September 04, 1904.
- “Where the Lynchers Come From.”, The Washington Post, August 19, 1904.
- “More Negroes Leave”, The Washington Post, August 19, 1904.
- “Who Are the Lynchers?”, St. Luke’s Herald, September 04, 1904.