Russell Little, Sr. Interview

View Russell Little, Sr. Video Transcript

– [Interviewer] Now I understand you are a shareholder of Gateway National Bank. Tell us a bit about how you came to be involved with Gateway and how this relationship evolved over the years.

– I came to be involved with Gateway after I’d heard about it. Dr. Jerome Williams Jr., I’m sorry, Dr. Jerome Williams Sr., was a good friend of mine. And he was telling me about the bank, and what it all hoped to do, what their aspirations were, this type of thing. I was not one of the original shareholders, I came later, after I moved all of my business banking to Gateway. And Dr. Williams wanted to know would I be interested in becoming an investor in the bank. And I said “I’ll think about it.” I became an investor, I become the second largest shareholder of the bank. And at one point I served as Vice-Chairman of the bank. And I was very, very proud to be a part of the banking. Very disappointed that the bank did not do everything that we had hoped that it would do. And I was somewhat distraught after I heard that the bank was not succeeding big time. So, upon hearing that the bank was going to close, I said a prayer, and said “Let’s do it.” And, that’s how we came to, at the request of the OCC, the bank was closed.

– [Interviewer] Closed on a prayer.

– On a prayer, but we were fortunate in that, we found a buyer for the bank. There was a group that wanted to buy, basically they needed our charter. And so they actually bought the bank from us. So the bank was definitely a viable bank as we left it.

– [Interviewer] Now you mentioned that prior to all this you moved your business dealings there. Why did you do that?

– I did that because I wanted to be a part of the only minority bank in the state of Missouri. Very much interested in helping all that I could. And my business was doing quite well at that time. We moved all personal accounts and all business accounts to Gateway.

– [Interviewer] Mr. Little were there individuals at the bank whose roles or interactions with you as a shareholder are especially meaningful?

– Well, with all of the shareholders, Dr. Jerome Williams Sr., uh, Clifton Gates, Charles Stewart, all of these people were very much interested in trying to set up a bank that would cater to our community. We were having some difficulty doing business with the banking institutions of St. Louis. And so we felt like, “Hey, let’s do it ourselves.” And that was the entire idea. This was right in the middle of the civil rights movement. And we were very much a part of that. I was not here in St. Louis when it started. I came to St. Louis from Detroit, Michigan. And was very instrumental in helping the bank to, there were times when it was necessary to provide additional capital for the bank. I was very pleased to be able to do that. And we were hoping that we would be long-lived. Unfortunately, things were not going well. We became the bank of last resource to a certain degree, for many people. And at one point, we had too many loans that were not doing well. And that was when we found the buyer for the bank, and we exited at that point.

– [Interviewer] Aside of doing business with Gateway, what was it like back then, for African-American’s that tried to establish a loan or a banking relationship in St. Louis?

– It was difficult. It was difficult. I was not involved with the marches that took place with other banking institutions, because they were not, they did not hire us, they did not make services available to us. And so, for that reason, we felt it would be very nice if we could provide our own services by starting our own bank. And, as I said, I was not here when the bank was started, that was a group of doctors per se, with Cliff Gates, who was the owner of Landmark Distributing Company. But Chuck Stewart, a CPA, they were all involved in helping to make Gateway National Bank possible. I was very pleased to be able to be a contributor to those efforts. And we did succeed in that sense. We invited many, many people from St. Louis to invest in the bank. Not a big investment, it was not necessary. If you could buy one or two, or 10 shares of stock, that was adequate at that time. And many people did. Unfortunately we were not able to provide for them great dividends. But we do appreciate their efforts.

– [Interviewer] What personally Mr. Little was of greatest importance to you about Gateway, in it’s role in the local community?

– Doing for one’s self was the most important thing to me. I’d been involved in the civil rights movement in Detroit, Michigan. Very proud to say that I had the honor of walking down Woodward Avenue with Dr. Martin Luther King. Civil rights was just a very important to me, and the other board members. And so to have an opportunity to be involved with the bank, like I said, there was no other bank, federally chartered bank, in the state of Missouri. And so given this opportunity to be an investor in the bank, I never one day regretted it, even though we did not do as well as we had hoped to do.

– [Interviewer] You know, when you heard the bank would close, were you surprised?

– No I was not. I was not surprised at all. Now keep in mind that the bank had been bought at that time, when it was going to close. The bank had been bought by another party, and while I had a lot of sympathy for them, they were attempting to do what we were attempting to do, and it just was not feasible at that time. I think today is a new day. Things are different now. You have younger people. You have better educated people coming along. And, I think that today, we would have been a success.

– [Interviewer] Had you heard of St. Louis Community Credit Union?

– No, I had not. That was new to me. I was speaking with Dr. Williams, the son of Dr. Williams Sr., who is Dr. Jerome Williams Jr., and he asked me if I was aware when I went into his office I noticed across the street where the bank used to be. And this was my first time seeing that the old bank building was being demolished. And, he kind of informed me as to who had bought the rights to the bank, had bought the property, and I wished them nothing but the best.

– [Interviewer] What were your impressions upon seeing that building torn down?

– Well, I pretty much extrapolated the fact that someone was doing some building there, with a new building. I did not know who it was, or what entity they were planning on putting there. And when I heard about the credit union, I said, “Well, great.” I also heard that they were going to name their latest branch after Gateway.

– [Interviewer] What do you think of that?

– I was very pleased, I was very pleased and very proud that the Gateway name in financial institutions, that the Gateway name was going to live on and certainly I’m hopeful that they will be very, very successful at that location.

– [Interviewer] And again, does that feel like a bit of a tribute to Gateway, the fact that they’re carrying on with that name?

– I do feel that it’s a tribute to Gateway. I think that they are those around today that realize what we were trying to accomplish at that time.

– [Interviewer] Finally Mr. Little, was does St. Louis Community Credit Union’s presence mean to the community with the investment in Gateway bank?

– The idea that we could be providing these services for our own community. That’s one of the things that I think that many of us are still concerned with. And, to whatever extent we are able to do that, I think we will, I think we should.

– [Interviewer] Mr. Little, these goings on with Gateway and St. Louis Community Credit Union, this is no small part of St. Louis history we’re talking about here.

– I think you’re right. I think that it’s going to be a big part of St. Louis history. Looking back upon the problems that we had getting banking services, adequate banking services, back when the bank was first started, that’s unthinkable today. And I’m very pleased that those days have passed, those times are gone.

– [Interviewer] Those are good changes.

– Good changes, good changes, without a doubt. There’s always room for progress, and those changes are part of the progress that we want to see in St. Louis, throughout the banking industry, and other industries.

– [Interviewer] Mr. Little, what else, what else have I not touched upon here that you thought might be relevant?

– Well, I think you’ve touched upon some important factors. All of us are core parts of the community. We need to realize that sometimes you get things done by doing them yourself. And regardless as to what the business happens to be. I’m very pleased to see more young people starting out on an entrepreneurship route. It makes me feel good. When we first started the bank we had problems attracting the younger generation, but I think that that’s all past now. And I think that the younger people coming along today they’ll be very supportive.