Updated: Feb 26
In 1921 a man named Heman Perry went into a store to be fitted for a pair of socks and was refused, because he was Black. This experience along with others brought him and four other Black businessmen together for a common goal. These men, known as the “Fervent Five” formed Citizens Trust Bank so that Black businessmen and women could own and operate businesses independently of white owned financial institutions. Heman Perry served as its first chairman of the board and Henry C. Dugas was its first President.
Citizens Trust Bank thrived and served its community well. In 1933 when newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt was sworn in, he declared a “bank holiday," which meant that for four days the nation’s banks were closed and all financial transactions were stopped so that his administration could develop a plan to fix the banking crisis associated with the ongoing Great Depression of the 1930’s. Citizens Bank was one of the few and first banks to reopen because of its smooth operation and efficiency. It became the first Black owned bank to become a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the first to join the Federal Reserve Bank.
In the 1950s, as a way to help Black communities grow Citizens Trust began investing in housing subdivision development in Atlanta that created affluent neighborhoods for Black Americans. In areas where white banks wouldn't provide mortgages because of redlining practices, Citizens Trust helped develop these areas, providing extra housing and promoting growth in the community. Mozley Park, Hunter Road, Morris Brown, Bankhead and Hightower are all communities built through financing from Citizens Trust. When Black men and women wanted to buy homes in white communities, they got financing from Citizens Trust when white owned institutions denied them. This allowed them to expand and open up their first West Side branch office.
In the 1960s Citizens Trust opened up its new headquarters at 75 Piedmont Ave, where it still exists today. Lorimer Milton, who had been with the company since the 1920s and guided the bank through the Great Depression, World War 2, racial segregation and the growth of Atlanta and its nearby suburbs, retired after the building of the headquarters was complete. He had grown the company from just $300,000 in assets to $26 million. After Lorimer’s retirement, Charles Reynolds took over the mantle in 1971. In 1975, Owen Funderburg who ran Gateway National Bank in St. Louis succeeded him as President and CEO.
Citizens Trust continued to expand under Funderberg. He continued its association with the National Bankers Association, which was a trade group of all the minority owned banks, doing business with Korean banks as well. By the 1980s Citizens Trust grew to $96 million in assets and was named Black Enterprise magazine's Bank of the Year due to Funderburg’s efficiency as a manager and advances made by the bank during his tenure.
By 1990 with assets over $100 million, Citizens Trust and its competitors Industrial Bank of Washington DC and Seaway National Bank of Chicago were touted as the largest Black owned banks in the country. In 1992 Funderburg retired after 17 years with Citizens Trust and was succeeded by William L. Gibbs as the President and CEO. Under Gibbs, Citizen Trust continued to grow and opened up new branches. One method of expansion was opening up branches inside supermarkets and grocery stores in Atlanta, which proved successful. After Gibbs resigned in 1997, Citizens Trust decided to merge with First Southern bank, with James Young taking over as bank president. The deal was finalized on January 30, 1998 and their assets grew to $191 million with the merger.
Citizens Trust always gave back to the community. One way is through partnerships with other minority owned banks to help rebuild and repair churches in the Atlanta area. Also opening up common stocks of Citizens Trust to the public market so that the people can own stocks in the bank that serves them and their community. Citizens Trust also became the first Black owned bank to become part of the Small Business Administration’s Preferred Lender Program by the end of the 1990s.
By the 21st century, Citizens Trust bought out Atlanta’s Mutual Federal Savings Bank, increasing its assets to $250 million and keeping it in the Black community. They continued to expand by buying out other Black owned banks on the brink of closure or bankruptcy, one being Citizens Federal Savings Bank in Alabama, which was founded by Black American businessman A.G. Gaston in 1957. This move increased its total assets to over $400 million.
As many Black owned banks continue to close, Citizens Trust continues to thrive in the same headquarters location in Atlanta at 75 Piedmont Ave, with 10 additional branches. Due to social media more people are aware of Citizens Trust outside of the Atlanta area, because of the Bank Black initiative started over the last few years. They are still helping to build up and grow the Black community, through affordable housing programs, down payment assistance and most importantly financial counseling. They even have programs for middle and high school students, teaching them how to bank, using “learn by doing exercises” to provide lessons on the importance of saving, budgeting to reach financial goals, banking online, basic investing and also how to keep checking accounts in balance. All important skills for young people to learn. For more information on Citizens Trust Bank, go to CTBconnect.com.
As we highlight Black owned financial Institutions, we do well with seeing the importance of maintaining the ones we have and hopefully instead of Black owned banks closing, we’ll see more opening up. Let's support these living example of Black Excellence.