Bank it in (Black History 365: William W. Browne)

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Reverend William Washington Browne a former slave from Georgia established the first black-owned bank in America. It was named “True Reformers Savings Bank”. The name was inspired by the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers which was a black fraternity organization founded by Browne in 1849.  Finalized on March 2nd, 1888, the bank was part of a larger fraternal society in Richmond Virginia. They specialized in offering sick and burial insurance was one of the many services they provided and it became evident that it would be fruitful. Additionally, the bank provided services for individuals and funding for retail stores, hotels, and newspaper publications. All this provisioning for black communities made it the largest and most successful black-owned business in the United States at the time. 

In the 1890s when an economic depression happened, specifically in 1893, banks began panicking. It was only Richmond that fully operated, honoring checks, paying out the full value of accounts, and paying school district salaries. Browne said quote, “It is said we had a dedicated Negro bank under the head of Freedman’s bank”, “We never had such a bank because all the owners and managers were white”.“The bank which we have is a black man’s bank, and all the officers are black”. “We started with love, Truth, Mercy, Wisdom, Brains, and Finance”. “These are our weapons”. The establishment flourished after William W. Browne’s death in 1897, expanding into newspaper publications, real estate, retirement homes, and loan association buildings. Moreover, new branches opened in Kansas by 1900 and it began operating in 24 states and owned property worth $223,500. By 1901 the bank hit its peak and amassed 1 million in deposits. All things considered, the prosperous doings of the bank didn’t have a long run. It met its demise due to mismanagement by new President William Lee Taylor. To be more specific, $50,000 was embezzled and the bank was unfortunately closed by the State Corporation Commission in 1910. Nevertheless, it’s still remembered as the first black-owned bank in the United States.

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