Maggie Walker Celebration

Maggie Walker Celebration 2017Maggie Walker: A Celebration happened on Friday March 10 at the elegantly restored Hippodrome Theatre in Richmond Virginia, where top musicians once performed. The National Collaborative for Women's History Sites (NCWHS) provided technical, administrative, moral support to this project. The many different partners involved in this project came together including the Stallings Family who currently owns the MLW Collection. Mrs. Margaret Stallings, Ms. Wanda Stallings, and Mr. Ron Stallings all attended.

After eight years of work processing the MLW Collection—rehousing documents from 1898 to 1940 into clean acid free folders, transferring any notations from the tattered old folders (which had done their jobs well), and putting them into acid free boxes, the Maggie Walker Community celebrated Mrs. Walker’s life and achievements, heard from esteemed historian Dr. Darlene Clark Hine on her adventures with archives, from key National Park Service historians and cultural resource managers, including Dr. Stephanie Toothman, head of Cultural Resources for the National Park Service, Dr. Turkiya Lowe the new NPS Chief Historian, and current Superintendent of Independence National Historical Park and Dave Ruth, now Superintendent of the park as well as Dr. Andrea DeKoter.

 

Park curator Ethan Bullard shared that the NPS has the other part of this Collection, the Independent Order having given it to him. Dr. Ben Anderson who worked on the Collection while he was a graduate student at the College of William & Mary explained its significance. Longtime NCWHS associate Ajena Rogers joined other park staff to highlight the significance of Mrs. Walker and the MLW Collection of 15,000 documents and the contribution the 21,000 entry database that the Maggie Walker Community has built over these years. Every page that did not need conservation was analyzed, described entering Dublin Core Metadata into the database, sometimes providing verbatim content to letters. Because Iron Mountain executives and employees attended with Ms. Alisha Perdue, the Manager for Community Engagement and Corporate Responsibility, who explained the company’s commitment to document preservation and digitization. They have digitized 100 of the documents. Colonial Williamsburg which has generously housed the MLW Community and Collection for the past two years joined as well.

Both Iron Mountain and Colonial Williamsburg have been superlative partners in this project. The Altria donation provided for printing hard copies of the database (about 4 inches thick), programs and flyers. The event was enlivened further by colorful gift bags assembled by the MLW community and door prizes enthusiastically collected as well as coffee and treats and a buffet lunch gifted by Ron Stallings owner of the Hippodrome who has long supported the MLW project. The NCWHS was given recognition for its role in bringing these partners together—the glue for it all. Attendees came from Richmond, Williamsburg (including a large NAACP contingent), and in between. The event was both fun and educational.

If you get to Richmond, the food at the Hippodrome is highly recommended. The MLW Community has met every Tuesday (and many Wednesdays!) to work on the MLW Collection, has made various presentations on it, and with its other partners planned the March event. Women from their 50s to 80s, they are a multi-racial group, with a majority of Black women, also white, a Chinese-American and a Latina. They frequently had intense and powerful discussions about women’s experiences especially as Blacks. These are the kinds of discussions—and friendships—greatly needed to help cross the racial chasm that separates us. “These weekly gatherings have provided a place where we can talk about issues raised in the documents—from the Scottsboro boys, to raising money for a woman ill with tuberculosis, to memberships in the beneficial society—and today,” one Community member explained. Discussions of Maggie Walker’s life, her friends including Mary McLeod Bethune and Nannie Helen Burroughs, her colleagues in the black leadership including Walter White of NAACP, RR Moton of Tuskegee, and Eugene Kinckle Jones came from the Collection.

In one letter Mrs. Bethune said that she hoped to get to Richmond by dark by learning early from New York—in the days before I-95—so she could find a place to stay for herself, a woman assistant and five men who wanted to sing to raise gas money for their journey southward to Florida and Bethune Cookman College. A thank you note lets us know that Mrs. Walker and her colleagues helped them. The Maggie Walker Collection features a Who’s Who of the Black Community. It also includes IOSL members who listed their occupations as housekeeper, factory worker, maid, and midwife. The Independent Order, was one of only a couple pre-Social Security beneficial organizations that had women as full members, and not auxiliary ones.

The letters thank Mrs. Walker for donating a baseball bat and balls to Black prisoners in the Richmond jail, MLW as a landlord, grandmother, activist, executive, and friend. In working on this Collection we felt she became our friend and guide—we often ask, “But what would Mrs. Walker do?” We think that Mrs. Walker appreciates the support the NCWHS gave her.

P.S. The Washington Post did a thoughtful article on the Maggie Walker Community—one could consider this public history in action. I tried to get NCWHS recognition there—Mrs. Walker came first!  

—Heather Hyuck

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