The new historical fiction “A Right Worthy Woman” tells the story of the ambitious and unafraid woman, Maggie Lena Walker, who was determined to gain wealth for her community.
Written by Atlanta-based author Ruth P. Watson, “A Right Worthy Woman” begins shortly after the Civil War in the predominantly Black Jackson Ward community in Richmond, Va.
The novel is loosely based on Walker’s life, telling the story of the daughter of a formerly enslaved woman and a Confederate soldier who dares to make a better life for her family and the people of Jackson Ward.
“Maggie Lena Walker has been in every book I’ve ever written, but nobody ever asked about her,” Watson added. So she was surprised that they were interested in learning more about Walker.
Watson said the more she did research on Virginia’s capital, the more Walker kept talking to her — as if she wanted her to write her story.
The story began when Walker was 12 when her stepfather died from an apparent suicide. When her mother sought financial refuge from the Independent Order of St. Luke to pay for the funeral costs, Walker was intrigued by their work in her neighborhood.
The Order was a fraternal organization that initially began financing burial costs for African Americans and offered life insurance to provide death benefits for the families.
Walker became fascinated with the Order’s purpose to help the people of Jackson Ward, so she joined and ran the youth sector of the organization.
“One of the things that she admired about the Order was the fact that they gave money to people in need,” Watson said. “Her empathy came from leadership and she said to herself, ‘Okay, I’m going to get in here and work with the juveniles and see if we can come up with something we can do for other people.”
Walker’s motivation to become involved with the Order in a leadership capacity was unorthodox for women at the beginning of the 20th century and she was even called “bossy” on some occasions.
“When it comes to success, the choice is simple. You can either stand up and be counted or lie down and be counted out.”
Maggie Lena Walker
“We should know about Maggie and feel very proud that back in 1903, there was a woman who had the audacity to try and make things different,” Watson said.
Walker befriended sociologist and Atlanta University professor W.E.B. DuBois and educator Mary McLeod Bethune who used their platforms to help in her mission. The three knew that working together would make Richmond a bustling metropolis for African Americans, and it eventually became the state’s financial hub.
“Maggie, Bethune and DuBois got together and knew there were some things that we can’t control, but there’s a lot we can control when we work together,” Watson said.
Watson hopes readers will learn that prayer and faith outweigh fear when they read Walker’s story and see themselves in there as well.
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