Atlanta's black and white business leaders Thursday broke bread together -- gingerly -- amid allegations that white-owned banks rarely lend money to black homeowners and business owners.
The topic arose frequently at the annual luncheon of the Atlanta Business League.
As the guests filed into the ballroom at the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, they were handed fliers criticizing the group for giving an award to Robert Strickland, chairman and chief executive officer of Trust Company Bank.
"Where is the conscience of the Atlanta Business League?" the fliers said. "It is a disgrace. LET US NOT TURN THE OTHER CHEEK!"
The lending issue was mentioned first at the luncheon by master of ceremonies John Cox of Delta Air Lines. He noted that Jay Smith, publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which disclosed the lending patterns in articles last week, was seated near Strickland of Trust Company and Raymond Riddle of First Atlanta Bank, whose banks ranked low in the newspaper's survey of equality of lending. Neither banker laughed.
The issue was addressed directly by Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax.
"I'm confident that they (bankers) believe, as we believe, that Atlanta will only be as strong as the total Atlanta community is, and that means a strong, mainstream black community -- both business and individual. With the leadership of people like (black business leaders) Jesse Hill and Herman Russell and Felker Ward -- all of whom serve, by the way, on bank boards here in Atlanta -- I'm confident that we're going to become pacesetters in terms of dealing with issues regarding financing black residential and business needs."
Strickland of Trust Company was honored with the league's business assistance support award "for his fairness and his generous response to the call for help."
A Trust Company director also was the main honoree. Jesse Hill, president of Atlanta Life Insurance Co., received the league's chief executive officer of the year award. And Trust Company director Arthur Montgomery, past chairman of Atlanta Coca-Cola Bottling Co., received the league's service award.
In his acceptance Strickland said, "People at Trust Company Bank recognize that to make this city go and to continue the growth that we've started and are so proud of, that all of our people must thrive and prosper," Strickland said. "And I want to pledge to you that we will do everything we can in our power to make that happen."
Across town, about 30 chanting protesters crashed the annual stockholders meeting of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta, which regulates savings institutions. The protesters from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) demanded a federal investigation.
Bank officials promised to investigate specific allegations of discrimination, but asked that a meeting with protesters be held later.
"I think we all want results," said Tom Zimmerman, executive vice president of the bank. "I don't think this is the best forum to reach the best solution."
The protesters had wanted to meet with Danny Wall, chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, who spoke to stockholders Thursday morning. However, Wall had left for Washington before the protesters arrived.
Later in the afternoon, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), black ministers and housing advocates held a news conference on the steps of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta to call for congressional hearings and a Just ice Department investigation.
"Any segment of the population that is denied equal and fair access (to credit) is doomed to systematic deprivation. We consider this to be capitalistic punishment which is cruel, unjust, devious, illegal and immoral. It is a blatant and vulgar violation of the American Dream," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, SCLC president.
Fed Vice President Ron Zimmerman said agency officials "believe we have met our responsibilities" to enforce fair-lending laws, and asked for a copy of the lenders' reports studied by the Journal-Constitution "so we can reach our own conclusions."
Staff writer Tom Eblen contributed to this article.Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
Reprinted with permission from The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution. Further reproduction, retransmission or distribution of these materials without the prior written consent of The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, and any copyright holder identified in the material's copyright notice, is prohibited.
Please send comments and story ideas to Bill Dedman, Bill@PowerReporting.com
Home page: Power Reporting