Dr. John A. Wright Interview

View Dr. John A. Wright Video Transcript

– [Interviewer] Can you talk to me about the atmosphere of banking for members of the African community, African-American community 50 years ago back in the 60s?

– Well, you gotta go back farther than that. I mean, it was just, that was in the teenage stage. You know, if you go far enough in 1915, we had credit unions, New Age Federal Savings and Loans came into being, because it was impossible for African-Americans to get loans by white institutions. So how do you get financing? You have to do it yourself, and so many African-Americans began to come together to pool their resources to make it available for African-Americans to get loans from from their institutions. I remember there was an article in 1914, in the newspaper, it showed how individuals in Kinloch, Missouri were paying double the cost. Whites would buy it at once price, sell it twice the price and finance it for African-Americans, and brag about how… I guess you would say how safe it was because African-Americans paid off their debts. So a fifth return on your money, if you loaned it to African-Americans, because the banks wouldn’t do it, but if you as a white would do it, you could make double on your money so it. Even in that early stage, it showed the importance of the need for institutions such as the African-Americans established, to finance their own. Alexville, which now known as a ville, when African-Americans couldn’t get loans, the Alexville corporation formed itself, individuals pooled their money to make it available for African-Americans so they could purchase homes. So predatory lenders have always been there. By steering and making it impossible for African-Americans to get loans in certain places, they made it so you have to buy slum property, and that’s the only thing you get financing on, doubling when people found out, when other opportunities became available, they owed more than the property was worth, so they walked off and left, and that’s why we have much decay in many of our communities.

– [Interviewer] So there were no rules, laws, or regulations in place back then to prevent that?

– No, it’s still something that’s happening today. We had the meltdown in the housing industry because of the way money was being loaned out. And so we have more rules in place now than we did at that time. But you had to have certain rules to set up a lending institution, and they had to meet or have a certain amount of money on reserve, and if you didn’t do that, you couldn’t open and operate. So most of those institutions, they were started and operated by African-Americans, met the federal guidelines to make it safe for an investment, they’re insured by the federal government.

– [Interviewer] Well, Dr. White, how did things change when banks like Gateway came along?

– Well what it did was make it possible for African-Americans to get loans, you have to remember, Gateway can only loan out so much money. You know, there’s a limit. You have a large African-American community, and Gateway is a small bank, so you loan to your limit, then you still have individuals who still had to go to the white institutions. And that’s when you run into trouble, and still, Gateway had an important indent on the African American community for those who were able to take advantage of their services.

– [Interviewer] And for those who weren’t?

– They were left to the predatory lenders.

– [Interviewer] There were probably more of those who were left.

– There were more of those who were left, right. You had a large number of individuals, and when you got ready to talk about buying a home, you were only able to get financing from those institutions if you purchased a home in a certain area. Because there was steering going on, they’ll steer you over here, you might not be able to go to this other neighborhood… After World War II, when the government provided loans for housing, many of those loans were not available to African-Americans, and that’s why you had a lot of segregated housing in North County, it began to change after 1948, after the Shelley vs Kraemer decision, which said housing had to open up.

– [Interviewer] But prior to that, some of the powers that be in the banking industry were steering members of the African American community to certain areas.

– In the African American community.

– [Interviewer] They could not go elsewhere.

– They say Gateway’s torn down now. It’s a lot with a big sign, and on it says, credit union’s on its way, and its taken the name Gateway as being used as that market tool. Eventually, I think the area will recover. It’s going to be a while, but I think if we don’t have a story plaque on the outside or little paragraphs and brochures and flyers, it has no meaning. It’s a good symbolic gesture at this point, but unless we keep the story alive, it has no meaning 10 to 15 years from now.

– [Interviewer] That’s what we’re doing here aren’t we?

– Most people have no idea what history is. They don’t know how we got to this point where we are now, and they take it for granted. Freedom is frosting on somebody else’s cake unless you know how to bake. That’s what Langston Hughes stated years ago.

– [Interviewer] In the new banks, St. Louis Community Credit Union is going to have brochures and a plaque, and detailed information outlying the history of that property, its relationship with Gateway, the former facility known as Gateway.

– So we have to keep history alive, to make sure we love it, people sacrificed for it, and we need to be willing to die for it. Many times we’ve said, we got what we wanted, but lost what we had, we got a broader opportunity to, being a larger institution, but we did lose the bank that was ours. That made it available for us to do a lot of the things we fought to preserve and have today. And so I think that’s an important feature we have to always remember. And that’s the same thing with our communities. Many of our communities say we lack a better community, but in the community I grew up in, everyone knew each other, and supported each other. And that has disappeared with integration.