For more than five years, Melvin Jones Jr. has pushed the city to recognize Maggie L. Walker with a life-sized statue. He’s about to get his wish, with city plans to erect one next year at the intersection of Brook Road and Adams and Broad streets.
It's a spot that has been the center of some controversy because of a large oak that sits in the center of the small triangular intersection. The city is currently considering whether the large tree and Walker can coexist. The oak has a fan club of petitioners who want it to stay. Jones says he thinks that the tree should be able to be "cut back" so it can stand near walker with no problem.
But he hopes this latest development won't keep plans from moving forward. The 59-year-old's admiration for Walker is chronicled in a binder of neatly compiled documents that tell the story of a mission to memorialize the icon. Included is a proclamation from City Council in favor of the statue and a petition with thousands of signatures of support. A letter to the U.S. post office from Jones asking that a stamp be released in her honor follows, and just last month he has drawn up plans for a post card in her honor.
The former city employee says he was influenced by Walker throughout his life as a 1971 graduate of Maggie L. Walker High School and as a member of the Maggie L. Walker High School Alumni Association.
Style: Why do you feel that it's so important to memorialize Maggie L. Walker in a statue?
I felt like besides a museum in her honor, Maggie Walker needed a monument. So when I became president of the Maggie L. Walker Alumni Association in 2008, which I did for two terms for four years, I decided well, we wanted a stamp and the stamp was kind of slow going. And so I said let's do a statue. So I drafted a letter up to each council person, including the mayor. I decided that I wanted a statue built at Adams, Broad and Brook Road.
That’s my passion. I’m doing it for the ladies. I think the ladies really need something to memorialize them. Plus, this would bring a lot of tourism to the City of Richmond. When kids go on a tour, they can come to the City of Richmond instead of Jamestown or Williamsburg. They can go to the Maggie Walker House.
Do you think that the statue will receive enough attention at Broad and Adams?
Before Maggie Walker’s granddaughter [Elizabeth "Beth" Randolph] passed away, the people who looked after Ms. Beth, they drove her around there. Ms. Beth she said that’s [the spot] for Maggie Walker because that’s the gateway to Jackson Ward. If you look at the sign right there beside Max’s it says “gateway to Jackson Ward.”
I think it’s a good spot instead of putting it in Abner Clay Park or anywhere else. Because if you put it there on Adams and Broad, Maggie Walker had a store emporium on Broad Street and then the bank was around on Second and Marshall. Everything is in walking distance, then you’ve got the Maggie Walker house at Second and Leigh streets.
How many signatures are on your petition? Most of the people [who signed] that come from other places. Do they have ties to Richmond?
Well, right now, I’ve got several thousand, but I just brought what I have in my hand right now. Since 2010, I would say I have over 2,000 signatures. I’ve got signatures from people from Sandiego … Hawaii, different areas. I’d meet them at the Second Street Festival and I used to have a portrait of Maggie Walker and a petition … [They asked], "Do you have to be a resident of Richmond?" I said, "No, this is for anybody. This is for a historical site."
So, you attended the former Maggie L. Walker High School, now it's a governor's school. Are you excited that the school was chosen for such a program?
I was, I really was. When you talk about Maggie Walker now, especially older people from the 1940s and the 1950s, … every time they hear about the statue of Maggie Walker, it brings them closer to wanting to do something with the kids at the governor's school. And the kids at the governor's school want to know more about Maggie Walker. You know, that's the story that I am getting from a lot of people. They were telling me, Melvin we want you to come up here and talk to the kids about Maggie Walker.You see, there's a lot more history that I've got to read up on but I've got it in my head every day.
How responsive was City Council at first, did it take them a while to come around to the idea?
Well, City Council went along with it. All nine Council members voted on it unanimously to have it done, so it just took a little time to get the money together from the Public Arts Commission.
Toby Mendez, an artist from over in Baltimore, Maryland; we felt really good about his artwork, so that's who we picked.
So you had a say in picking the artist?
Yeah, I did. We had the Public Arts Commission and I believe it was 11 people who voted on it. I'm not on the Public Arts Commission. I was on the site selection committee. They felt kind of bad that I wasn't on the Public Arts Commission. You know, everything went well.