“History never feels historic when you’re sitting in it. It just feels like another day. But that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t historic.” John Hope Bryant
This Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020, marked the 155th anniversary of the Freedman’s Bank, part of the larger Freedman’s Bureau legislation of March 3rd, 1865, signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War, and arguably the best president the nation has ever seen.
The Freedman’s Bank was chartered by Congress, and signed into law by President Lincoln, with a mission to ‘teach freed slaves about money,’ as well as to give them a safe place to domicile their savings, and to gain access to capital.
It is beyond noteworthy, that President Lincoln, after the worse war on American soil, brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor, state against state, decided that one of the most important thing s he could do, was to ‘teach freed slaves about money.’ To help to truly make them free, by bringing them fully into the free enterprise system. unfortunately for history, and for all of us, President Lincoln was assassinated the next month, and the bank’s legacy simply feel apart after that. By 1874, the bank was no more.
But before the bank failed, it confirmed the work ethic, the industrious nature, and the interest in savings, of everyday African-Americans. More than 70,000 depositors put every dime they had, totally $52 million, or more than 100B today (which would make it one of the top 10 banks today based on assets). It had 38 branches, covering 17 states.
The bank was even later run by a legend, by the name of Frederick Douglass, who put $10,000 of his own money into the bank ($20 million today), providing that silver rights and civil rights, have always been equal partners in societal change.
This Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020, in the Cash Room of the US Treasury Department, Operation HOPE was honored to partner with the US Treasury, Secretary Mnuchin and Deputy Secretary Justin Muzinich, to stand up the first ever Freedman’s Bank Forum, to honor the legacy and unfinished work of President Lincoln, Douglass and freed men. It was also the 155th anniversary of the founding of the Freedman’s Bank itself.
The Forum also marks the Treasury Department’s commitment to at the very least acknowledge the anniversary of March 3rd, the Freedman’s Bank annually, and to likewise serve as a framework for advancing access to capital, access to opportunity, financial literacy, financial wellness and wealth building strategies for the future.