A remarkable tale of a former Georgia slave's trials and victories in establishing the first black-owned bank in the United States may be found in the institution's history, which is preserved in The Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers. The bank, established the following year after its founder Reverend William Washington Browne's death (in 1889), started with initial deposits of $1,269.28.
As a matter of fact, the first African-American-owned bank was established by a former slave.
Black America's first black banker, Reverend William Washington Browne
Reverend William Washington Browne, a former slave turned bank owner, founded the bank to better protect the financial security of African American depositors. He envisioned a bank that would shield the financial data of its Black customers from white government snoops.
The Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers, a Black fraternal organization founded by Browne in 1849, provided the inspiration for the bank's name. After the Civil War, racial tensions persisted in Richmond, Virginia, so Browne opened the city's first Black-owned bank out of his house. The bank relocated a couple of blocks away to 604-608 North Second Street two years later.
flourished despite the Great Depression
Profits at the bank were high. Browne's bank was one of the few that made it through the panicked rush to withdraw funds during the U.S. economic slump of 1893. True to its name, it was the only Richmond bank that continued to operate while paying out all of its customers' deposits in full.
In spite of Browne's passing in 1897, the bank did not cease operations. It branched out into newspapers, retirement homes, real estate, and a building and loan association. 24 states were added to its list of operational locations as it expanded.
However, the bank was badly handled by its new president, Reverend William Lee Taylor, who frequently made risky, insecure loans that went into default. A cashier's theft of $50,000 was the final straw that caused the bank to close its doors. As early as 1910, the State Corporation Commission had mandated the bank's closure. Nonetheless, it will forever be remembered as the first bank in the United States to be owned by a group of African Americans.
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