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With the removal of statues honoring the war of southern treason, some worry about the loss of southern heritage. This as an opportunity to reclaim the heritage of courage and overcoming, a heritage that stands in contrast to that of division and oppression.

In the honor of men, they were all men, who sought to divide our country and oppress so many, the south has tenaciously clung to the worst of its heritage and left unrecognized the heroism, courage and fortitude of those who overcame the oppression too long celebrated.  

There are thousands of our forefathers and mothers who provide a heritage the south can hold up with pride and honor. For there is no honor worthier than that of overcoming oppression. One such amazing person was Maggie Lena Walker, who as an African American woman with disabilities overcame so much to serve so many.

Walker was born in the last year of the Civil War in Richmond Virginia, which had been the capital of the confederacy.  Walker started her professional life as a teacher and later started a newspaper and a bank. She was the first woman in America to charter a bank. The bank provided loans for African American businesses that contributed to the economy of Richmond and provided examples of prosperity that few African Americans were given access to. Walker said, “Let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves and reap the benefit ourselves. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.”

It was not until 2017 that Richmond finally erected a statue to this amazing woman, even as it sought to maintain statues of the military leaders that sought to divide our nation.

To be sure, there is an honorable and noble heritage in the south and it shines in the memory of Maggie L. Walker. While Black History Month sets aside time for us to celebrate the contributions of those who have had to struggle fiercely for basic humanity, we would do well to hold these examples all year long for they are the redemption of our heritage. 

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