Carrying their checkbooks and singing hymns, Atlanta's black ministers rode in a motorcade across downtown Tuesday morning to launch their "Minority Economic Independence" campaign to move money to two black-owned financial institutions.
The 45-car motorcade, beginning a 90-day campaign, rolled down Martin Luther King Jr. Drive into downtown. It stopped at Citizens Trust Bank on Piedmont Avenue and around the corner at Mutual Federal Savings and Loan Association on Auburn Avenue. Employees of both institutions were waiting, ready to receive new accounts and new deposits.
The preachers reiterated that their campaign is not a boycott of white-owned banks, but an effort to empower two small black-owned institutions.
"We're not boycotting anybody," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Nobody says the Jews are boycotting when they support their institutions. We're supporting our institutions. When Baptists go to church on Sunday, they're not boycotting the Presbyterians."
At least 20 ministers representing many denominations prayed, sang a chorus of "We Shall Overcome," and offered testimonials about the hundreds of thousands of dollars they would be depositing in the two black institutions. About 100 people participated in the motorcade.
The Rev. Timothy Flemming of Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church said he was moving $65,000 of church funds to Citizen's Trust from First Atlanta bank, which he said had turned down his church's request three years ago for a building loan. He said the church later got the loan from a bank in Texas.
The white bankers with the largest share of black Atlanta's deposits expressed disappointment but no harsh words for the black clergy's campaign.
"I am disappointed," said Wade Mitchell, executive vice president of Trust Company Bank. "We hate to see any good business leave us, and we hate to see any actions which tend to further segregate the society."
Raymond Riddle, president and chief executive officer of First Atlanta bank, said, "First Atlanta values all of its customers, and we work hard to retain their confidence and business. We work just as hard to attract their business. It would be disappointing to see any customer withdraw funds or make any other financial decision based on anything other than sound financial planning. To do so would be unwise."
Dallas Lee, spokesman for Citizens and Southern National Bank, said, "I think we and the other banks applaud the support for these other local financial institutions. The city can't have too many healthy growing banks. On the other hand, it's very competitive. And we intend to compete very vigorously not only to maintain what business we have but to compete in all Atlanta neighborhoods."
The campaign was prompted by articles published May 1-4 in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The series, called "The Color of Money," described how Atlanta banks and savings and loan associations rarely make home loans in black neighborhoods, even high-income neighborhoods. The large financial institutions also have closed branches in black areas, have kept branches in black areas open fewer hours, have not solicited business from real estate agents in black areas, have set minimum loan amounts that exclude some black neighborhoods and have not hired black real estate appraisers.
The ministers rejected any suggestion that the disparities were erased by the recently announced plans by nine banks to make $65 million in low-interest home loans to blacks and whites in working-class neighborhoods. They said the loan programs were only one step toward fairness.
"We thank the Lord for the revelations that there have been some unjust stewards of our funds," said the Rev. Earl Moore of Decatur Seventh-day Adventist Church. "Yesterday, we proclaimed our national independence. Today, we proclaim our economic independence."
The campaign is sponsored by a new group, the Coalition for Economic Justice, which includes the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Concerned Black Clergy, Atlanta Baptist Ministers Union, South Atlanta Land Trust, Empire Real Estate Board, Atlanta Business League, Georgia Housing Coalition, and several neighborhood groups.
Leaders of the large banks stayed away from debating with the ministers, but Lee from C&S pointed out that the newspaper articles dealt largely with real estate lending, not with other areas that comprise the bulk of the bank's business.
"The black ministers have a message they want to deliver, but we are anxious that the issue be debated with proper perspective, with a full perspective," Lee said. "It's one thing to call into issue the way the banks handle their real estate lending and another matter entirely to jump to conclusions about how the
banks conduct their traditional banking business. C&S for example, has 16 or 1 7 branches serving predominantly minority communities with millions and millions of dollars in loans."
The black ministers recited the newspaper's estimate that blacks have at least $765 million in banks in the metro area. The two black-owned institutions have assets of $138 million.
"Black folks in Atlanta, Georgia, have more than $800 million in predominantly white institutions. Why should we not support those black institutions that have supported us?" said the Rev. Timothy McDonald of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "For more than 12 years we have demonstrated our political clout. Today is the day we declare our economic clout."Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
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