How black-owned banks are cashing in on a protest movement

In a time of racial unrest, some African Americans have turned to an alternative protest movement: They're moving their money into black-owned banks.

Nati Harnik/AP
Pastor Janet Goodman Banks speaks to demonstrators gathered on the steps of the state Capitol in Lincoln, Neb., on July 14, 2016 to protest the recent police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Some black Americans are cashing in on an alternative protest movement – moving their money into traditional black-owned banks.

Black Americans worried about their communities are discovering how to put their money where their mouth is: open an account at a black-owned bank.  

The black banking represents not only an economic protest movement, but also an intentional shift back toward building a community from the local level.

"I think it’s a very positive effort to get the community to step up and say look, nobody is going to support us if we don’t support ourselves,” Michael Grant, president of the minority trade organization National Bankers Association, told the Atlanta Black Star. “Let’s start giving support to our own institutions, let’s support our historically black colleges, let’s support our businesses, let’s support our banks.”

The impetus came from a black rapper in Atlanta known as Killer Mike. He called into a town hall meeting on MTV on July 8 after recent protests over officer-involved shootings of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota. He urged black Americans to protest with their pocketbooks by depositing their money in black-owned banks.

"We cannot go out in the street and start bombing, shooting, and killing," the rapper Michael Render said during the town hall event. "I encourage none of us to engage in acts of violence that will cause more peril to our community and others that look like us. I encourage us to take our warfare to financial institutions."

Citizen's Trust, a black-owned bank network throughout Atlanta and Georgia, received applications for 8,000 new deposit accounts in less than a week.

“We have seen an influx of new accounts and visits and applications, but there’s a big difference between applications and accounts,” marketing Director Diedra St. Julien told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "This is remarkable."

Bank officials said on Twitter people were waiting to get in during the next few days of the rush, and the bank's president thanked the rapper for the business.

Small, locally owned banking institutions were once a strong source of support for smaller communities regardless of race, but they began to decline in the mid-20th century. The concept of the black-owned, local bank began in 1865 as a means of helping African-Americans receive the loans they needed to build businesses. Black-owned banks totaled 130 at the beginning of the 20th century, but their number has since declined to 22, alongside that of banks generally and small, community-centered banks in particular, the Atlanta Black Star reported. 

Even Citizens Trust, one of the country's largest black-owned banks, had seen deposits decline in recent years, but the last few months have been up, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. The spike of 8,000 deposit accounts would have contributed a minimum of $800,000, assuming each account holder deposited only $100. 

The rapper Killer Mike has supported a shift into black-owned banks even before the MTV event, saying it will increase accountability and increase the ability of black communities to build.

“Bank small, bank local, bank black,” he said in February, according to Rolling Out. “Gone are the days of most banks knowing their account holders. I can walk in here and voice my concerns, my complaints — or my compliments — to a live person. . . . We are quick to say what we don’t have, but here is a black institution, 95 years strong and poised to grow, that is supporting the community."

Mr. Grant of the National Bankers Association told USA Today that black-owned banks around the nation are "getting volume that you would not believe," a move he applauded.

"If we’re going to be considered first-class citizens and respected in this country, we’re going to have to take control of our economic destiny," Mr. Grant told the Atlanta Black Star.

If this mode of economic protest becomes a trend, it could create a resurgence in local banking. It need not represent a boycott of all other institutions per se, but it is a pointed move by black Americans toward building up black institutions. 

"If we can bring together our economics collectively, we can help businesses grow, we can help people obtain home loans. That brings them closer to the American dream," Executive Vice President of Citizens Trust Bank Frederick Daniels Jr. told USA Today. "We’re providing a tangible solution for those who want action."

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