One hundred years ago, in 1921, 120 Black-owned banks were in existence across the United States. Their roots dated back to the Freedmen’s Bank, which President Abraham Lincoln knew would be an integral building block to sustain freedom for those who had been enslaved.
Nestled in majority-minority communities such as Atlanta, Chicago, Durham and Tulsa, these banks were the cornerstones of wealth, economic advancement and holistic Black wellness for the formerly enslaved and their children.
Self-sufficient and self-contained economies in neighborhoods like Greenwood, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, became the wildest dreams-come-true for Black Americans, who had spent the past four centuries in bondage. Home to about 10,000 residents, the streets of Greenwood weren’t lined with gold, but the pavement was rich in perseverance and abundant in the wealth of Black-owned businesses, hotels, doctors’ offices, grocery stores and churches.
The skills Black Americans had cultivated in the hostile existence of slavery had culminated in robust communities, the likes of which we have seen with other ethnic minorities, such as “Chinatowns,” “Little Italies” and “Koreatowns.”
In the greatest economy on earth, these Black communities held the promise of hope, opportunity and generational wealth. But this dream was abruptly and violently destroyed when Greenwood was bombed by a mob of white supremacists on May 31, 1921 — exactly 100 years ago today.
At Peachtree Providence Partners, we pause to remember this act of domestic terrorism.
We also pause to ask: is the work we do through our companies and the conversations we have with stakeholders sufficient to ensure that future generations share in the dream of a racially just America?
We recognize the factors at hand; it is the purchasing power of Black Americans, coupled with the role of the federal government to ensure “freedom and justice for all,” that will lead to social change and economic prosperity for our people.
Recently, Walter Davis, one of our founders, was asked to testify before a U.S. House of Representatives Small Business subcommittee. As a co-founder of the largest financial institution in the history of our country established and managed by African Americans, Walter noted in his remarks a few steps that are critical to creating solutions for Black small businesses.
One hundred years ago, 120 Black-owned banks were in existence across the United States. Twenty years ago, the number had been reduced to 40. Today, only 19 Black-owned banks remain in operation. Only one has assets of $1 billion. In an economy where there are multiple trillion-dollar banks, this is inexcusable.
The systemic barriers to growth for the intermediaries we serve must be addressed. This lack of scale for Black-owned banks translates into a lack of resources and ultimately an effort that is scaled-down in its propensity to provide capital to the underserved.
Unless the federal government moves to ensure that Black-owned businesses have equal access to the free-enterprise system, the economic devastation we see in our communities will persist, and these conditions are the bedrock of much of the social dysfunction and, yes, racial unrest that we’re experiencing today.
No business can move or grow without access to capital. During the pandemic and subsequent recovery, we see Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs) handling the bulk of Black and Brown small-business relief efforts. The federal government must be as dedicated to providing for the needs of minority businesses in distressed communities as we are for all other entities in our country.
While we may not be able to resurrect the ashes of Greenwood and recreate the community we saw destroyed 100 years ago, we can make changes in our individual lives, in our cities and in our federal government that will restore the promise of what was stolen a century ago.
Peachtree Providence Partners was founded by Walter Davis, Milton Jones, Jr. and Angela Webb. The company brings a unique combination of knowledge, experience and capabilities with a wide range of corporate and entrepreneurial experience. The founders of Peachtree Providence Partners have more than 100+ years of collective experience in the financial services industry, a demonstrated ability to develop and execute complex strategies, and a track record of proven results.