Black Banking – Self Help Economics

By Barney Blakeney   

Here we go again. Another big bank has settled a discrimination lawsuit. The other day I read where Bank of America settled a complaint alleging a James Island branch discriminated against Hispanics trying to make homeownership loans.

A couple of years ago it was Wells Fargo whose employees sold customers products and services they didn’t know about, didn’t want and didn’t ask for. That’s unfortunate. A lot of people use banks and other financial institutions, but not everybody trusts them. Such revelations validate that mistrust. It doesn’t have to be that way, however.

Banks are an essential part of our economic system. Some of us can’t live without them. But for minorities, mainstream financial institutions always have been a problem. They beat us! Reading about the James Island Bank of America sham made me think of some other things. The discrimination in lending – denial of services, higher interest rates and fees along with all the other nooks and crannies financial institutions hide their dirty work such as collusion to discriminate in the housing industry – always has worked against minorities. Those who contend it ain’t black and white it’s green, should always consider that the green is predicated on black and white. I first learned about the Community Reinvestment Act when I started writing for newspapers.

The Community Reinvestment Act was enacted in 1977 to prevent redlining (targeting specific groups of people for approved services only in certain geographic areas) and to encourage banks and savings associations to help meet the credit needs of all segments of their communities, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods and individuals. Today, CRA and its implementing regulations require Federal financial institution regulators to assess the record of each bank in fulfilling its obligation to the community and to consider that record in evaluating and approving applications for charters, bank mergers, acquisitions, and branch openings.

It’s been a minute since I’ve reviewed any CRA information – I used to look at it annually when banks are required to make their reports. Local banks never used to fulfill the requirements. I’m sure they still don’t. The James Island Bank of America complaint indicates that. It’s always been up to watchdog organizations like the National Fair Housing Alliance which uncovered the James Island trick to do what the feds, even under Democratic administrations, fail to do.

Thankfully, such organizations are there to plead the case for compliance because most of us sure don’t do our part. My man, James Clingman who writes a nationally syndicated column on Black economics religiously admonishes Black folks and other minorities to look out for themselves in the financial arena. Other folks hold the institutions that serve their communities accountable in various ways, but for whatever reason Black folks expect somebody else to hold accountable those who serve us. We bitch and moan about what somebody else is doing to us, or not doing for us, but take no action to do for self.

Okay I get it. The issues are complicated, but some things are really quite simple. Every Sunday, Black churches in this community collect hundreds of thousands of dollars which they promptly deposit in various banks – hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even millions of dollars! They are the same banks which willfully and inconsequentially discriminate against us in lending and other services.

Our churches deposit all that money into banks which refuse service to the members of the congregations which make those deposits. Essentially, those congregation members on Monday morning can’t go to those banks and borrow their own money!  What’s wrong with that picture?

Back in the day, before fake integration, Black folks had their own banks. I always heard the building at the intersection of King and Cannon streets was the site of a Black owned bank in Charleston. Maybe Damon Fordham, my Black History ‘go to guy’ can clear that up for us – but for sure there is a Black Credit union in Charleston today, the CO Credit Union located at 117 Spring St.

I figure if every Black church in the Charleston area deposits its collection from one Sunday each month in CO Credit Union, Black folks would have a financial institution strong enough to facilitate a lot of economic activity. I wonder how many local Black elected officials have accounts at CO Credit Union. Negros will talk that talk.

If Black folks use their own financial institution we wouldn’t have to picket stores in our communities owned by others who exploit us. Oh yeah, what ever happened to the pickets anyway? Big Gene, a veteran picketer called and asked how he could get involved in the latest picket- his kid’s bigger and he has the time and desire now, he said. Big Gene and Jerome Smalls picketed until they got Robert Lee Smith out from under an unjust life sentence. At 70 some-odd years old, Big Gene still is in the fight. He said he didn’t see any picketers in front of the store on Spruill Avenue. Guess they left when the cameras left.

I keep tellin’ brothers you can’t keep sellin’ those wolf tickets! A man’s word is his bond. If you don’t do what you say you’re going to do, you lose respect and any fear of consequences you may have had. Big Gene reminded me that back in the 1980s he and his group shut down Simmons Ice House after the owner hurt a kid. Ain’t nothin’ been on that spot ever since! These wannabe community activists need to take a few history lessons from Boycotting 101. And no, it don’t take a million people to mount a successful picket. Rev. Fred Dawson went after grocery stores and the local daily newspapers by himself! And was successful. All ya’ll Black folks at the Post and Courier – ya’ll need to thank Rev. Frederick Douglas Dawson for you jobs! That man picketed by himself on Columbus Street!

But we ain’t even got to go there. We have economic wealth enough to determine our own destiny. Them folks understand the power of economic self-determination. That’s what ‘Black Wall Street’ in the Greenwood community of Tulsa, OK. was all about. As Black folks scrounge around waiting for somebody to save us, the power of our survival is within our grasp. I’m convinced a lot of that power is embodied in CO Credit Union.

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