Blacks prayed, planned, threatened.
Politicians formed a committee.
Bankers were angry and silent.
The fallout came from disclosures last week that metro Atlanta's banks and savings and loans rarely make home loans in black or integrated neighborhoods of any income. The lending patterns were detailed in "The Color of Money," a series of articles in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The findings touched a nerve in Atlanta's black communities, from the poor to the elite.
Even before the series of articles was concluded, the City Council called a special session with heads of Atlanta's largest financial institutions.
"I want to hear from some of our banking friends and people at the savings and loans," said council President Marvin Arrington. "If we have a problem, if in fact what we read in the paper was true, how do we respond to it?"
The bankers sat grimly silent. They were surrounded by television cameras and a crowd of black and white protesters and black businessmen who said they had been turned down for loans.
Two bankers spoke only when called upon: They said the loan figures apparently were correct, but they offered no explanations, no solutions.
"They're shell-shocked," said a business leader who serves on a bank board. "They see themselves as friends of the black community. They have one hell of a public relations problem."
Blacks were not silent.
Some blacks said they had always known they weren't getting their share of loans. Others said they were alarmed.
"I thought we had come much further along as a city and a region," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis.
Others were angry. Councilman Jabari Simama refused to eat at the City Council lunch with the bankers. "I don't think breaking bread together is appropriate at this particular point."
Arrington emphasized "a brotherly approach," forming an "action committee" headed by a banker. And he led the City Council in a prayer for divine forgiveness for the city and for black members of bank boards, and a blessing for James Fletcher, who owes a mortgage company $30,000 for a $5,000 loan after he was turned down by a bank.
Some said more than talk was needed. "Should we move our money out of banks and urge our membership to move the money out of the banks?" asked the Rev. Joe Beasley of Concerned Black Clergy. NAACP Regional Director Earl Shinhoster said that was a good idea.
City Councilman Bill Campbell said the city should reconsider where it puts taxpayers' money.
At the Capitol, several black representatives began to scribble on legal pads. One proposed a state review board where loan applicants could contest denials. The state banking commissioner said Georgia needs a law requiring banks to reinvest deposits in their communities.
"White people who live in the inner-city neighborhoods suffer from this,'' said Nan Orrock, a white legislator on the Southside.
About 40 residents of inner-city neighborhoods, black and white, marched singing through the lobby of Trust Company Bank on Friday. Bank executives said nothing.
From many bankers the first reaction was defensive. One told his church choir that a person described in the articles as having been turned down for a loan had been under federal indictment for money laundering. No indictment was on record. Another banker said Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax hadn't been able to get a loan because he didn't have a building permit, or because there was a lien on his property. He had a permit, and there was no lien.
Bank employees reacted bitterly to an Atlanta Constitution editorial cartoon picturing a loan officer in Ku Klux Klan garb.
Some bankers suggested the reports could have a positive effect.
"I don't mind at all that the article has raised issues of balanced growth an d community development," said Lee Sessions, head of Citizens and Southern Bank in Atlanta. "There are valid issues out there that all segments of the Atlanta community need to address, and every American city needs to address. Something good will come out of this because Atlanta has a unique ability to draw together diverse groups of people and pull together and move forward. That's what I think is occurring. From that perspective, what's going on is positive."
And what goes on will be watched -- in Atlanta and around the country.
Newsweek covered the City Council meeting. NBC's "Today" show devoted five minutes to the issue. The Chamber of Commerce had a spokesman in the studio in case no banker would go on the air, but one did. He heard Jane Pauley close the segment with a promise to check on the banks' progress in July, when the Democratic National Convention brings to town 15,000 reporters.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.
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