Black community leaders have been advocating for Black-owned banking
ever since Emancipation, even more so since the civil rights reforms of the 1960s. The thesis: Banks operated by Black people would help communities that left slavery with scratch build wealth, unimpeded by the prejudice and suspicion of the white banking establishment.
Black-owned and Black-led banks proliferated in the 1970s. But the same systemic barriers that kept Black communities from accumulating assets before civil rights—real estate “redlining
,” unequal access to education and jobs—have kept the national wealth gap wide
. Today, America’s 20 Black banks combined have fewer than $5.5 billion in assets—an infinitesimal fraction of the $21.1 trillion held by the U.S. banking sector.
But the arrows may finally be pointing upward. Amid protests against systemic racism following the police killing of George Floyd, the “Bank Black” movement has gone mainstream. Over the last few months, at least a half-dozen companies have committed roughly half a billion dollars to Black banks, seeing them as an efficient, fiscally sustainable way to boost Black communities. “We’re not asking you for contributions. We’re just asking you to put your money into a bank,” says Teri Williams, president and CEO of OneUnited Bank, the nation’s largest Black-owned bank by number of customers. “We lend it to the community in ways that build wealth. And we also use the platform to send a message to ourselves, and to the world.”
Read more: Making Black-owned banks matter