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Eliza Walker made her mark in Rockbridge history

Published: Feb. 17, 2022 at 5:31 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - At a ribbon-cutting last April, the opening of a new business was marked, helped with a special grant.

“We are dedicated to helping support and fund and start Black- and brown-owned businesses in Lexington,” Stephanie Wilkinson, a Walker Program board member, said.

The Walker Program was named in honor of Harry Lee and Eliza Walker, leading entrepreneurs at the turn of the 20th century in downtown Lexington.

His general store on Main Street now holds a Macado’s restaurant, and across the street, in the First Baptist Church, Eliza could often be found organizing groups and events, as well as reading her poetry.

“She thinks in lots of ways about how to use her skills for a whole range of people, and a range of possibilities,” said Rockbridge Historical Society Executive Director Eric Wilson. “And I think it’s precisely because she has so many skills that she can connect with so many different people.”

Trained as a nurse, she founded an orphanage, worked with the elderly, pushed for more schools for the African-American community, and organized political fundraising.

“I think she was a quite formidable figure in the community,” Wilson said. “A deeply charismatic one, and one who really combined a different range of social purpose.”

It’s a life that has earned her a leading spot in Rockbridge’s African-American history.

“She just seems to have had this commitment, perhaps a relentless commitment, to do that across a range of ways,” Wilson explained. “I think it’s fascinating in history, I think it’s fascinating today in our contemporary lives.”

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