“First we need a savings bank. Let us put our moneys together; let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.” -Maggie L. Walker
The #BankBlack movement maybe moving, but quite simply it is not moving fast enough. After almost 100 years in business, First State Bank, the last African American owned bank in Virginia, has sold the majority of its ownership to Casey Crawford, CEO & Founder of Movement Mortgage (pictured above). The sell reduces the number of African American owned banks to 19 and represents an almost 20 percent decrease in the number of African American owned banks lost in the past two and half years.
It has been seen that with the absence of African American owned banks and credit unions comes much predatory behavior to the community. Banks like Wells Fargo and Citigroup have paid hundreds of millions for their behavior and payday loans are as rampant as ants at a picnic within the community. Since desegregation, African American institutions from neighborhoods to businesses and even schools that were inherent to the interest of African America have been in a struggle to stem the tide of a collapsing institutional fabric.
As recently as the early 1990s there were over 50 African American owned banks in the United States. First State Bank’s sale removes $32.9 million in assets from African America’s financial hold. Key states absent of an African American owned bank were already Florida, Mississippi, New York, and Ohio all of which have major African American populations. Now, add Virginia to that list which is a key state down the I-95 corridor and proximity to the nation’s capital. The loss of First State Bank truly echoes tears of frustration as Virginia was the home of Madam C.J. Walker’s St. Luke Penny Savings Bank, which she chartered in 1901 making her the first African American woman to charter and preside over a bank. Now, there are none in the state 116 years later. Is this what we call progress?
There has not been a new African American owned bank opened in seventeen years since Alamerica Bank was opened in Alabama. The #BankBlack movement is simply not enough if African American institutions like HBCUs, businesses, fraternal organizations, and the like are not willing to move their deposits into them. A harsh reality is that lending to the African American community is risky. We have lower median incomes, less assets, and more volatile working lives. The chance that we could become unemployed is a much higher probability than other Americans, therefore our banks are always at more risk for loan default from us. They need even more reserves than banks like JP Morgan and company who are being required to hold more because of their systemic importance. Our banks must look at themselves in the same light, they are systemic to our community’s financial health. If not, the candlelight of opportunity is going to quickly fade away into darkness when African America truly has no place to turn for its own financial well being.
First State Bank closing is more than just 100 years of financial stability to southeast Virginia’s African American community, it is another nail in the coffin of African American institutionalism which we so desperately need to revive.