The famed bank owner and Richmond citizen Maggie Walker is set to be immortalized along Broad Street at a grand unveiling next month, but the road to now was once fraught with surprising controversy.
“This effort has been nearly 20 years in the making and it is an honor to finally see it happen during my time in office,” said Mayor Levar Stoney in a press release sent out today. “Maggie Walker is an inspiration to women, African Americans and entrepreneurs alike.”
While most of Richmond agreed on the need to honor Walker who famously was the first female bank president of any race to charter a bank in the United States, the location of the monument proved to be a sticking point for some involved.
The future pedestal for the statue, an island park at Broad and Adams along RVA’s Jackson Ward neighborhood, was once home to an (evidently) beloved and long standing tree.
A petition was started to spare the tree, claiming the city should find a way to honor Walker without damaging the flora already in place.
“The grandeur of the Maggie Walker statue will be forever tainted by the senseless killing of this rare and giving tree,” read the petition which garnered about 1400 signatures. “Miss Walker, one of Richmond’s most devoted stewards of life, would surely not have endorsed this shameful act in her memory.”
But at a public meeting held at the Richmond Public Library last January a survey of the 200 or so people in attendance found less than 35% of the crowd saw the tree as important enough to alter design plans. But the sculptor commissioned to do the work, Toby Mendez, said he could accommodate either side’s concerns.
“Tree, no tree–that’s really up to you guys. I can design either way, I think either way will be successful,” said Mendez. “If the tree goes away we’re still going to have to have some small trees on the site. I think whether we design this with or without the tree the first thing people are going to look at is Maggie Walker, I’ll make sure of that.”
Sure enough, the tree has since been removed, the sliver of Brooke Rd. in front of Max’s on Broad has been paved over into public park, and the statue of Ms. Walker is set to be unveiled Saturday, July 15, 2017, the entrepreneur’s 153rd birthday. The National Park service will offer a walking tour of Jackson War, Walker’s home neighborhood, following the unveiling.
Top photo via Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site