Maggie L. Walker, Richmond’s most celebrated woman, is going to be put on a pedestal.
Pushed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones, plans are quietly moving ahead to design a suitable public monument to the great lady, who, among other things, was the first African-American woman to found and operate a bank.
A 10-member Site Selection Committee, including artists, museum officials and others with an interest, has been named to lead the effort for the city’s Public Art Commission, which is charged with developing public art.
At this point, there are two sites considered prime — Lone Pine Park, the small triangular site at Adams and Broad streets that serves as a gateway to Jackson Ward, and Abner Clay Park, located across Leigh Street from the pending new home of the Black History Museum. But that could change after the public weighs in. According to city documents, the site committee expects to hold one or more public meetings in mid- to late-March to hear ideas from Richmond residents about the site and the size and scope of the monument.
By April, the documents show, the committee expects to finalize the site and issue a request for proposals from artists near and far. The winner of the design competition is expected to be selected in June. The finished project would be unveiled by the summer of 2015.
The committee includes Black History Museum Chairman Stacy Burrs, sculptor Paul Di Pasquale, former City Councilman William R. "Bill" Johnson Jr., diversity consultant Tiffany Jana and Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site supervisory ranger Ajena C. Rogers. Others on the committee include author Sarah Shields Driggs, school librarian and artist Faithe M. Norrell, artist Ed Trask and city aide Keith Rogers.
Walker was a huge presence in Richmond during her life. Her life and legacy continue to be celebrated at the National Historic Site in Jackson Ward that the National Park Service operates in her former Leigh Street home. Born during the Civil War. she rose to lead the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal group that offered health and burial insurance.
In 1903, Walker gained a charter to open the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. She served as the first president and remained chairwoman of the bank, later renamed Consolidated Bank& Trust Co., until her death in 1934. The bank was sold to a White-owned Washington bank and then to a West Virginia group and is now a division of Premier Bank.
A regional high school and a business development center now bear her name, but there has long been a wish to do more. Private efforts to create a statue to Maggie Walker have surfaced several times in the past 15 years, but all foundered when fundraising failed.
The prospects changed when Mayor Jones made a Maggie Walker statue a priority for his second term and proposed spending city funds to make it happen.
City Council cleared the way last spring for the new Maggie Walker monument by setting aside $2.8 million for development of public art in the capital budget, even though that was $500,000 less than Mayor Jones recommended.
The money the council approved is earmarked for the city’s Percent for the Arts program, under which 1 percent of the money spent on city projects costing $250,000 or more is to put into public art. Such expensive projects as the city’s four new schools and the soon-to-open Justice Center or jail are generating the new funding the council is providing to the Public Arts Commission. Those sites also are in line to get smaller pieces of public art.
The Walker project is one of two large monuments in the works for Richmond. The other is the Emancipation Proclamation and Freedom Monument, which is to pay homage to President Lincoln’s slave-freeing edict of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, once Richmond’s biggest business.
The effort to develop the monument on Brown’s Island is the work of the General Assembly’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission chaired by Richmond state Sen. Henry L. Marsh III.