From Atlanta to Chicago, black-owned banks in big cities across the country have reported a rise in new accounts during the past month. One of the oldest black-owned banks in the country is based in Durham, where bank officials report a rise in new accounts and in a new movement to keep the momentum going.
The movement, known online as #moveyourmoney, caught Durham’s Cicely Mitchell by surprise.
Mitchell is African American and co-founder and president of Durham’s Art of Cool Project, responsible for an annual, jazz-influenced music festival in downtown Durham.
But she’s never banked at a black financial institution before.
"I had my money in the State Employees’ Credit Union for the rates and for, you know, the little the fringe benefits of being at State Employees'," Mitchell said.
So when she heard through social media about rapper Killer Mike's emotional plea for African Americans to open up bank accounts at black-owned banks like Citizens Trust in Atlanta, Mitchell tuned in. This is what Killer Mike had to say on an Atlanta radio station:
“You can go to your bank tomorrow and you can say ‘Until you, as a corporation start to speak on our behalf, I want all my money and I’m taking all my money to Citizens Trust’,” Killer Mike said in the online video.
“A lot of us we’re just like, ‘That’s something I can get behind, right?’," said Mitchell, who soon started to spread the same message Killer Mike was spreading on MTV and BET.
"I just put it up there, after I heard him say it. I just put it up there on my Facebook, really, and was like ‘Hey, I’m thinking about putting some of my money in Mechanics and Farmers, and you should too’," said Mitchell.
Spreading the message
Many others put it on their Facebook pages, and sent text messages to family and friends, too.
Mitchell said talk of moving black dollars started this summer, shortly after the shooting deaths of two black men at the hands of police. She says Killer Mike was mad, she was mad and so were a lot of her friends. And spreading the #moveyourmoney message made more sense than protesting on the streets, she said.
"There’s a time and place for that, but one thing about getting people’s attention, people pay attention when money starts shifting,” she said.
Some 8,000 people opened up new accounts at Atlanta’s Citizens Trust days after Killer Mike’s plea to move at least $100, according to reports. And others reportedly opened hundreds of new accounts at Houston’s Unity National Bank and Chicago’s Seaway Bank and Trust.
The same is true at Mechanics and Farmer’s Bank in Durham, according to James Sills, president and CEO of the bank that was founded in 1907.
“It started on July the 8th and it’s been pretty consistent and we’ve been extremely busy here but it’s a good thing to be busy," said Sills. "It’s a good busy."
Sills, has spent 30 years in banking – from Bank of America to First Tuskegee Bank started by Booker T. Washington. He’s not sure who should get the credit for this surprise black money movement, but it’s about time, before these institutions disappear, he said.
“We really need to support these institutions because they’re the only businesses that we have in our communities that actually recycle dollars back into the communities where we live and work," said Sills. "So it is critical that we keep this momentum or this movement going.”
Sills said there were about 50 black-owned banks in the United States when he started in the business. Today, some organizations put the total at 21. The list of reasons for this shrinkage is long – from the lack of services to integration.
“My first bank account was opened at Mechanic and Farmers bank, probably when I was about six years old," said Maceo Sloan, who was the chairman and CEO of NCM Capital in Durham for many years.
Sloan, 66, has been in the financial services sector his entire life. His family helped start the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, one of the last black-owned insurance companies left in the country.
Sloan said he’s impressed by the #moveyourmoney movement, but he wants to be more impressed.
“A hundred dollars is going to do nothing for their bank," said Sloan. "What needs to happen, is that African Americans need to go take all their money out of Bank of America, and Sun Trust, and Wells Fargo and all the other banks, Citigroup, all the other banks they have their money in and put it in their black banks, that might make a difference.”
Out east is the Greater Kinston Credit Union, one of two historically black credit unions left in the state. The other is Legacy, in Charlotte.
Dakasha Cannon, 27, of Kinston walked in a recent day. Cannon hadn’t heard about the move black money movement. She only opened an account here three months ago.
"I really wasn’t a bank type of person, I wanted my checks," said Cannon, whose family members have had accounts here for years. "And then I said ‘I needed a secure place to keep my money,’ so I decided to check in with them.”
Shawn Wilson, manager and CEO of Greater Kinston Credit Union, recently heard about the move black money movement.
"We have had a lot of phone calls over the last three weeks. We’ve seen phone calls even as far away as Atlanta, Georgia, interested in our history, what’s our mission, how can they join, things of that nature," said Wilson.
Wilson took over Greater Kinston three years ago. It suffered just like its members during the economic downturn. The bank is more stable now, with 5,400 members and growing, and Wilson said he hopes this new black bank movement is more than just a fad.
“I would love for this not to be a social wind that blows for a few minutes or a couple of months, but I would love for this to be a movement that continues," Wilson said.