Banking on Black Banks

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    Starting during the 1930s, the Mitchells of Washington were close friends with Edward Kennedy Ellington’s family. So, in 2009 when the Duke Ellington Commemorative Quarter was to be distributed, the Ellington family selected the Mitchell’s Industrial Bank on the historic U Street corridor to begin distributing the quarter.

    The Ellingtons and Mitchells are evidence of the evolution of the nation’s Black middle class. The families grew up in Le Droit Park, an area of urban, narrow row houses anchored by Howard University. The bank of Le Droit Park residents, Industrial Bank of Washington, grew to be one of America’s oldest Black-owned banks. The bank and Mitchell family are testaments to the Washington Black business movement.

    When it opened, Industrial Bank was Washington’s only Black-owned bank. Jesse Mitchell, a 1907 Howard University Law School grad, started Industrial Bank of Washington in 1934. A range of Black investors – including individuals, churches, and service-oriented organizations – rallied around the effort. The bank has had a national impact through three generations: Mitchell’s son, B. Doyle Mitchell Sr., succeeded him as president in 1953. He was succeeded in 1993 by his grandson, B. Doyle Mitchell Jr., as president and CEO and his granddaughter, Patricia A. Mitchell, as executive vice president. Under their guidance, Industrial Bank remains a family-owned business that has 150 employees and $350 million in assets.

    The story of Industrial Bank of Washington is of importance to Black Americans because as Black wealth has evolved, Industrial Bank has, over generations, delivered banking and financial services toward the growth and development of the nation’s largest and longest enduring Black middle class. Both the bank and Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington are Washington legends. The “Duke” and other Black music legends helped establish the U Street entertainment corridor. On February 26, 2009, Industrial Bank led the way when the jazz musician became the first Black American to be prominently featured on a U.S. coin in circulation with the release of a quarter honoring the District of Columbia.

    In Images of America: Industrial Bank, B. Doyle Jr. and Patricia A. Mitchell have produced a good look and insight into Black Washington over the past seven decades. The book is a worthwhile look into the Black banking world, people and events.

    Since slavery, Africans in America have realized the necessity of accumulating wealth and the subsequent benefits of collective financial security. The Free African Society, the Free Labor Bank, and the Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company laid the groundwork for Black capitalism in America. Black banks gave African Americans a venue in which to learn about and participate in the business of banking. They helped Blacks learn valuable economic lessons about being industrious and saving money. African-American churches and fraternal organizations served as pooling places for capital needed to open banks sensitive to the needs of African Americans.

    In Images of America: Industrial Bank, the authors tell the story of the institution in 130-pages with more than 200 vintage images that brings to the fore the people, places, and events that shaped the character of Washington through history and until today. The bank held accounts for the National Business League, the National Bankers Association, the National Newspaper Publishers Association (the Black Press of America) and most national fraternal and sorority organizations. In the book, the Mitchells have defined a community as the bank’s story is illustrated through images from the Industrial Bank archives and the Scurlock Studio Records, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Behring Center and Smithsonian Institution. The foreword was composed by Edward Ellington Jr. and April Ellington, son and daughter of “The Duke.”

    Images of America: Industrial Bank is a “must read” for Blacks. The book is published by Arcadia Publishing – http://www.arcadiapublishing.com. Learning about what has become a mainstay for Black Washingtonians will be a lesson well learned. Industrial Bank has received wide acclaim for its community reinvestments and performances. B. Doyle Mitchell Jr. says, they provide “services to create a vibrant local community based on encouraging thriving businesses.”

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