At the turn of the century, Maggie Lena Walker was a trailblazing entrepreneur and pioneering advocate of the Black community. As the first woman and African American woman to own a bank in the United States, Walker’s beliefs in financial freedom and business support transformed the lives of African Americans in her community. Many principles and methodologies that Walker lived by are still relevant today and are evident in FSC First’s services. 

About Maggie Lena Walker

Born to enslaved parents in Richmond, Virginia, on July 15, 1864, Walker was raised in the post-Civil War South. At 14 years old, she found community in the Independent Order of St. Luke’s, an organization dedicated to African Americans’ social and financial empowerment in Richmond. Walker dedicated herself to the group and held leadership positions within their ranks.

In 1899, the group was on the verge of bankruptcy. Walker, then the Grand Secretary, devised a strategy to create businesses (including a bank, emporium, newspaper, and a factory) that focused on hiring and serving the African American community. She believed that the community could play a pivotal role in building and sustaining their financial health by supporting Black-owned businesses rather than supporting establishments that did not have the community’s best interests at heart. 

Balance Transfer: Promoting Equity and Empowering African American Communities

The primary focus of these efforts was establishing a bank dedicated to African American enterprise. By creating a financial engine that could prosper individuals and Black-owned businesses, Walker believed that African Americans could propel themselves to financial freedom. In a time of intense racial prejudice, African Americans were given unfairly high interest rates at white-owned banks, if they were granted a loan at all.  By 1903, Walker opened the St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank to offer African Americans a safe space to conduct their financial affairs without discrimination. 

Walker also established The St. Luke Herald and encouraged African American business owners to use the publication to promote their offerings. The St. Luke Emporium, opened in 1905, featured only African American mannequins and advocated for the needs and employment of Black women. 

Beyond banking, Walker served as the Vice President of the Richmond chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and held leadership positions in other civic organizations. In 1934, Walker passed away due to complications from diabetes. Her Richmond home is now a National Historic Site with the National Park Service. 

Nearly 20 years after opening, the Penny Savings Bank has expanded to other parts of Virginia and is still in operation today with an astounding 50,000 members.

Paying it Forward: Walker’s Legacy Lives on for FSC First

Walker left behind an impactful legacy and has been a profound inspiration for the services and education FSC First provides the community.  

“Like Maggie, our team puts community at the core of our mission,” says FSC First Vice President of Business Development, Steward Smith. “FSC First echos her conviction to support financial health as a means to propel minority-owned businesses forward.” 

Since its founding in 1978, FSC First has generated over $100 million in direct loans for small and minority-owned businesses in Prince George’s County. Smith continues, “Our programs help individual business owners acquire financial resources, tools, education, and community connections that will grow their businesses.” 

The Level Up program is one of the most significant examples of this. The program actively provides access to capital, training, mentoring, and networking opportunities to support minority business owners who, in turn, help their communities succeed by proxy. In 2023, Level Up served 2,313 small businesses and gave 420 technical assistance hours and 223 coaching and consulting hours to small business owners.

“Maggie’s innovation and passion remind us that what FSC First strives for is more than financial success for our clients; it is the building of a strong community that uplifts and supports one another,” Smith adds. “We want to honor her legacy by propelling the interests of the minority business community every day.”

FSC First is committed to supporting minority entrepreneurs. Contact us today to learn more about financial considerations and programs to grow and establish your businesses.

References

https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/maggie-lena-walker 

https://www.nps.gov/mawa/learn/historyculture/index.htm 

https://americanhistory.si.edu/explore/stories/pennies-and-nickels-add-success-maggie-lena-walker

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