Keywords: African American women, Banks and banking, Early 20 th century United States, Regulation
This essay explores the early decades of the St. Luke Bank (1903-2013) located in Richmond, Virginia: the first bank founded, financed, and led by African American women. The bank’s founder and long-time president Maggie Lena Walker (1864-1934) shaped the bank’s business operations and its lending priorities around the gendered economic practices of working-class African American women. Walker faced down Jane Crow, a system of racist and sexist discrimination, through two particular threats to her vision of economic empowerment: extralegal harassment from the white business community and aggressive state oversight. White businessmen exerted economic pressure and the threat of sexual violence to force the St. Luke Bank and its related businesses out of the city’s central business district. Reform-minded politicians and regulators interpreted Black economic autonomy and civic involvement as threats to democratic capitalism and the existing social order.