I recognize that whenever you generalize you descriminate, but the following statement actually has historical grounding: African-Americans generally don’t trust banks, and history might have a window into at least one of the major reasons why. It all goes back to the year, 1865.
On March 3rd, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation to create the Freedman’s Bank after the civil war. It was a bank created to help ‘teach freed slaves about money.’ Unfortunately, President Lincoln was killed five weeks later, and despite the efforts of Frederick Douglass, who signed on to run the bank after Lincoln’s death, the bank had been manipulated from the outside and was on a crash course with ultimate failure. But this was not the fault or the doing of the more than 73,000 Black depositors — former slaves — who placed every dime they had into this bank. More than $50M today, or billions in today’s dollars.
More than half of these deposits were never returned to these hard working former slaves. Many of them were Union soldiers, who had faught on the Union side of the battle against the Conderates in the Civil War. This had to have a major impact on personal psyche, and their confidence in financial institutions.
And so, while this was 150 years ago, the fact of the matter is that hard working, industrious African-Americans trusted this institution and their government, and that trust was not rewarded.
This makes Dr. King’s speech, nearly 100 years later, almost to the year of the banks founding in Washington, D.C. and during the March for Jobs and Freedom, even more pogniant. It was here that Dr. King said ‘we are here in the nation’s capital to cash a check. A check marked ‘non-sufficient funds.’
But oddly enough, it was not the loss of the money which proved the most destructive blow to former slaves, and today the broader African-American community. It was the failure to execute on the bank’s chosen mission: specifically, and powerfully, “a bank chartered to teach freed slaves about money.”
Education is the ultimate poverty eradication tool. When you know better, you tend to do better.
And so, after the publishing of my now bestselling book, “How The Poor Can Save Capitalism: Rebuilding the Path to the Middle Class. The Solution for the 100%,” where I told the story for the first time of the Freedman’s Bank to a broader audience, we decided to make it our mission to get the building where the bank once stood in Washington, DC, renamed The Freedman’s Bank Building.
Thanks to the leadership and vision of Treasury Sceretary Jack Lew, this vision of renaming the former U.S. Treasury Annex Building became a reality on January 7th, 2016.Introducing ladies and gentleman, The Freedman’s Bank Building. The first time in our nation’s history that a building on the White House’s 18 acre campus has been renamed.
But even this is not enough. While the Federal government, and Secretary Lew himself are taking bold and important policy steps to strengthen, support and financially resource federal government policy around financial inclusion for all this year, others in the community and the private sector (and academia and faith) must do more also. And others are active. The Urban League is engaged in communities around jobs and inclusion, as is the NAACP and other important organizations. I commend them all.
My plan at Operation HOPE is to rally the nation behind a plan to ‘inspire every modern, progressive bank to become a Freedman’s Bank,’ by allowing a dedicated HOPE Financial Coach to operate within the walls of the bank branch,’ raising credit scores to 700, amongst other things. “Nothing changes your life more, besides God or love, than moving your credit score 120 points. ”
We call this HOPE Inside, and already we have more than 280 commitments and pledges to open HOPE Inside locations, inside of bank branches, grocery stores, hotels, government offices, college campuses, houses of faith and other important locations ‘where we shop, stop and flock.’
To put this into context, for 22+ years we had a total of 24 offices across the nation, not including our international locations. But in the last 24 months, we have orders and commitments totally more than 280 locations! And 50 new offices for HOPE Inside and HOPE Inside for Kids are already operational!
Where we operate on the ground, we want to see communities become Freedman’s Communities.
Where we operate within public schools, we want to see public schools slowly evolve into Freedman’s Schools.
Basically, what I now seek is the nation’s first ever national urban and rural distribution system for hope building. A national system for aspiration, uplift and empowerment, to match the national organized system in these same communities, for drugs, criminal activity, hopelessness, joblessness and despair.
Sustainable, transformational change at scale is what we seek, because today the legacy of the Freedman’s Bank is a burning (and jobless) Ferguson, a burning (no jobless) Baltimore, and a burning (and then jobless) South Central Los Angeles (circa 1992). All, jobless communities, with 500 credit scores, and very little understanding how money and the free enterprise system actually works.
We can change all of this, and I plan to do my part.
Stay tuned for 1,000 HOPE Inside locations across the nation by year 2020. This is what I mean, when I refer to a new silver rights movement for all. One focused on our uplift. Building an economy for all.
Change, is within ours grasp.
John Hope Bryant