Friday, June 15, 2012

The Champions Who Walked Among Us - Article 5 - The Banker

Work for the night is coming,
Work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling,
Work mid springing flowers;
Work when the day grows brighter,
Work in the glowing sun;
Work, for the night is coming,
When man's work is done.[1]

1934, the Black Tuesday that had ushered in the Great Depression of 1929 was losing its speed, and the world's economy was turning around, looking upward. The GNP in the United States had risen to 7.7 per cent, and the unemployment rate had gone down from 24.9 per cent to 21.7 per cent. The road to recovery had finally begun.
It was the day of December 15, and it was unusually cold, the wind was blowing, and rain was everywhere as the wind howled at the door of the hearse that was carrying the coffin, and yet, the streets were filled with people. Schools had let their pupils out early, flags were flying at half mast, and politicians were gathering in the city to be counted as being among those who admired and honored her.
  • How do you explain the success of a woman who had defied the business world and succeeded?
  • What kind of answer do you give to those who ask how she managed to keep her business alive and healthy, even through the rough times of the Depression?
  • How do you account for her micro-economic way of way of establishing bank accounts that paid off, instead of going under?
In retrospect, many people, on that particular day looked back at her life, and comparing it with their own lives asked themselves:
  • What if?
  • What would they have done?
It was July 15, 1867, and a half-breed love child of an Irishman and a freed Negro slave came into the world.  The Civil War was over.  The ratification of the fourteenth amendment took place six days before her first birthday on July 9, 1868. The first four or five years of her little world centered on her mother. After the marriage of her mother to the butler of the family she had been working for, this young girl received a last name and was now considered legitimate.
Raised by a mother who valued education and did not shun hard work, she was taught the greater good of working hard to achieve.  It was like an injection shot into her veins. If you want to be something, you have to work hard at it. So, being particularly smart in mathematics, she worked hard and was among the best in her small class of ten students at the time of her graduation.
The years rolled on and it was late in the nineteenth century.  Women were not yet allowed to vote, and women entrepreneurs were the laughing stock of the male population.  After all, everyone knew women had no sense for business and much less for business management.  However, this principle, which supported the hypothesis that women were born as the not-so-intelligent species of the world, would be irreparably damaged, a few years later, as the world moved over into the twentieth century.   The door to women in business would open-wide, as one young woman, whom they had not even speculated upon, walked through the back door.
  • What do you do when someone tells you it can't be done?
  • How do you react when you come up against a wall of  ignorance?
Who would dare start a bank with $9,430 dollars gathered together from members of a benevolent institution?  Who would have had the audacity to approach the board members with such a hay wired risk-taking plan and expect for it to work. After all, the purpose of the institution was to cover funeral expenses and take care of illnesses in exchange for small monthly dues.  She had a hand for taking dead organizations and breathing life back into them.  Her principle of saving and her philosophy of hard work kept her living and moving forward towards her goals.   The micro bank loans in many of the poorer countries today are based on a principle that was created by this woman.
Later on, the trials of life tested her tenacity to keep going––her ability to persevere was put into the test of fire.  It was 1907, and she fell accidentally.  That fall would bring her pain and extreme difficulty and slowly take away her body movements, until she would need a wheelchair.  However, the dream kept her alive, and the drive to succeed, the motivation to be all she could be, the belief  of working hard until her night came spurred her on to live and achieve.
A fall, which would have made many others give up, endowed her with a new name––The Lame Lioness. The ferociousness of her business skills compared her to a lioness that protects her baby cubs.
She had attained her finesse in business by taking accounting and business courses at night after a hard day's work and taking care of her family. What other choice had she? But it paid off.  Nothing could stand in her way; nothing could hurt her. Invincible? No, the woman was not invincible, she was determined, determined to utilize every talent she had been given, determined to not let the wear and tear of life stop her from achieving her goals.
Work, for the night is coming,
Work in the sunny noon;
Fill brightest hours with labor,
Rest comes sure and soon.
Give every flying minute
Something to keep in store:
Work for the night is coming,
When man works no more.[2]
Her time of tribulation did not end quickly.  In 1915, tragedy tested her courage and her love of mankind once more.  Her son, Russell, accidentally shot his own father.  He thought he was a burglar who was breaking into their home.
  • Would she be able to forgive her son and stand by him during the trial?
The newspapers reported how she lovingly gave him her support, forgiving and supporting him.  He was acquitted, and she accepted what her son could not accept.  Nine years later, Russell would depart this earth, and the banker, now affectionately known, as the Lame Lioness would take his wife and child into her care as a part of her extended family.
Through all that was to come the woman kept dreaming, kept moving, kept working.  By the time of the Great Depression, she was completely bound to her wheelchair.
  • Who do you turn to?
  • Where do you run?
While other banks were seeking governmental aid, this woman was busy putting together one of the best merger and acquisition plans for  troubled banks at that time, and she expanded her bank's capital and influence in the business world. Wall Street was stunned,  and the politicians took note of her innate ability to rescue that which others thought was hopelessly lost.  The Lame Lioness, the woman who could not walk, had brought together a bank that still exists today, the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company in Virginia.
The streets were crowded on that cold and rainy December day, the fifteenth, nineteen hundred and thirty-four.  People of all nationalities, races and cultures marched towards the Old First Baptist Church of Richmond to pay their last respect. There, she had worshipped her God, since she was a child.  There, she had received the courage to dream. There, she had trained herself, and at the age of fourteen worked faithfully and loyally in the Independent Order of St. Luke, where she had reached out to the sickly, and buried those whose families were not able to pay their burial costs.
Work, for the night is coming,
Under the sunset skies;
While their bright tints are glowing,
Work, for daylight flies.
Work till the last beam fadeth,
Fadeth to shine no more;
Work while the night is darkening,
When man's work is o'er.[3] 
She Walked On, people, She Walked On!
On December 15, 1934, Maggie Lena Walker, the Lame Lioness,
  • The woman who had become the first woman President of a bank,
  • The woman who had taken accounting classes at night,
  • The woman who believed in working hard and persevering
had Walked On!
Walk On, All you Lame Lionesses, Walk On,
Walk On! All you who are proving that a disability does not limit the person's ability!
Walk On! I say, Walk On!

Pat Garcia

[1] Work for the Night Is Coming, Annie L. Walker, 1865, The Baptist Hymnal, Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1967.
[2] Work for the Night Is Coming, Annie L. Walker, 1865, The Baptist Hymnal, Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1967.
[3] Work for the Night Is Coming, Annie L. Walker, 1865, The Baptist Hymnal, Judson Press, Valley Forge, 1967.

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