(NNPA)—We gather together this month to lift up the names that have been frequently lifted, to call the roll of those African Americans who have made a difference. While some names are the tried and true names of important leaders, we need to pay as much attention to the legacies of those whose lives and contributions have been swallowed.
Madame CJ Walker’s life and legacy is no secret. There is a woman who shares her name though, and she is rarely lifted up when the roles of Black women in our nation’s history are mentioned. Maggie Lena Walker, with a second grade education, established Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Va. She was the first African American woman to establish such a bank. Through the Great Depression, and through bank regulation shifts, some version of Penny Savings Bank existed until the early 21st Century. This woman’s contribution has been overshadowed because it is easy to ignore her contribution to history.
Madame CJ Walker garnered public attention, and few realize that she was not the first to do “black hair.” Annie Malone developed a thriving hair care business in St. Louis and surrounding areas. According to some sources, she had at least two dozen training schools in the early 20th Century. Some say she mentored Madame CJ Walker. Many acknowledge that her hair care educational foci were a model for Madame Walker. Did Walker, more flamboyant and better connected, establish a place in history while Annie Malone and Maggie Lena Walker could not? What does it say about Black history when the glitz and glitter are substitutes for sacrifice and substance?