"We are truly living the people helping people motto. Credit unions are uniquely positioned to lead the United States in eradicating racism." - African-American Credit Union Coalition President and CEO, Renée Sattiewhite
"Credit unions were born out of adversity." - African-American Credit Union Coalition President and CEO, Renée Sattiewhite
"Diversity, equity and inclusion is not moment, it's a movement" - African-American Credit Union Coalition President and CEO, Renée Sattiewhite
The month of February brings awareness to Black History Month and allows the opportunity to learn and celebrate the culture and history of Black Americans. Did you know, credit unions have been fundamental with providing accessible financial resources to Black Americans throughout our nation’s history?
How It Started
In the early 1900’s, Alphonse Desjardins and his wife Doriméne Roy Desjardins provided the foundation for financial cooperatives to serve and assist underserved communities. The Desjardins’ were also vital in forming the first North American credit union in Manchester, New Hampshire, where they also provided financial guidance to immigrant mill workers from the area and shared the benefit of banking with a credit union.
On March 3, 1909, the Desjardins’ formally assisted Massachusetts banking Commissioner, Pierre Jay, to draft a bill to incorporate credit unions in the state. On April 15, 1909 with the support of the Boston Merchants Association and the Senate Banking Committee, the Massachusetts Credit Union Act became law and was defined as “A Cooperative Association formed for the purpose of promoting thrift among its members.”
By the 1920’s , the first set of credit unions began to provide lending opportunities to Black American communities and urban groups of farmers, educating them and improving the financial lives of those in the communities.
Influential Black Americans and Accessible Financial Institutions
Despite the success of establishing accessible financial resources and services for all, racial injustice was an obstacle in the path of healthy expansion and growth of the credit union movement.
In 1955 the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA) was created to manage the successful campaign of the Montgomery Bus boycott. Under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr., Edgar Nixon and Ralph Abernathy, the MIA applied with the federal government to become a federal charter for a credit union. However, the application was rejected due to the association’s field of membership being too broad.
Once the 1960’s arrived, President Lyndon B. Johnson and his administration formed the “Great Society Initiative” with the goal to eliminate poverty and racial injustice in the United States. This initiative led to the formation of credit unions’ in low-income areas, predominantly in Black neighborhoods along with the formation of numerous banks and credit unions owned by Black Americans. This broke down barriers in terms of encouraging Black Americans to purchase homes, create businesses and establish lines of credit.
The Modern Age - Where We Are Now
The philosophy of people helping people has been and remains an important part of the credit union movement.
In 1999, the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC) was created to increase the strength of the global credit union community. They are a non-profit organization of African-American Professionals and volunteers in the credit union industry whose mission is to increase diversity within the credit union community through advocacy and professional development.
Black Americans continue to have a strong influence in the world of finance with leaders in the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF), World Council of Credit Unions and Credit Union National Association (CUNA), all serving with the purpose of creating a financial community of People Helping People. Black history month offers us all the opportunity to learn and celebrate the many contributions of the black community.
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