Black Firsts

Oliver Lewis

Oliver Lewis Oliver Lewis (1856-1924) was the first African American and the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby.

The first Derby was held at the Louisville Jockey Club on May 17, 1875.

Oliver Lewis, who was just nineteen at the time, was the jockey for a horse called Aristide. Aristide was not expected to win. Chesapeake, a colt from the same stable and owner was favored to win the race.

The plan was for Lewis to set the pace and tire out the other horses, which would then open up the race for Chesapeake.

When the horses came to the last kilometer, Lewis looked for Chesapeake. When he realized the horse was too far back to catch up, Lewis pulled Aristide ahead and won the event.

The Kentucky Derby is the premiere event in the sport of horse racing. Thirteen of the fifteen jockeys in the first Derby were African American. In the early years, Black jockeys dominated the event and won fifteen of the first twenty-eight races.

Maggie Lena Walker

Maggie Lena Walker First Black Female Bank PresidentWhen Maggie Lena Walker was just a teen she joined the local chapter of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a fraternal society that provided for the needs of African Americans. Walker believed in a strong community. She also believed African Americans should establish institutions within their community to strengthen it and help it thrive.

Maggie Lena Walker was born in Richmond, Virginia on July 15, 1864 to parents who were formerly enslaved. She attended the Richmond Normal Colored School where she trained as a teacher. After graduating, she taught for three years. At the same time she continued her education and took classes in accounting and business management.

In 1902 Walker founded the St. Luke-Herald newspaper and used the paper to encourage African Americans to grab and hold onto their power by establishing businesses and institutions. The following year she established St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and served as the bank’s first president.

During the Great Depression, when many banks failed, Walker managed to keep St. Luke Penny Savings alive by merging with two other Richmond banks. The new bank was named The Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Walker served as Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

Later in her life she became partially paralyzed. Walker refused to let her paralysis stop her and continued working for the bank and her community until her death on December 15, 1934.

In 1979 Maggie Lena Walker’s Richmond home was purchased by the National Park Service and designated a National Historic Site.