**FILE* Industrial Bank's Georgia Avenue branch in northwest D.C. (Courtesy photo)

D.C. may no longer be “Chocolate City” following decades of changes in the city’s demographics attributed in part to the impact of gentrification not only in the District but in many of America’s urban settings.

However, there remain a few holdouts — businesses whose leaders have employed ingenuity and common sense in their successful efforts to weather numerous storms and remain in operation — while standing firm to their commitment in providing service to the Black community and to all people who enter their doors.

For one local business, Industrial Bank, it’s been 85 years since their founding by the family patriarch during which they’ve established a reputation and legacy for providing a chance for Black businesses and families to achieve their personal and professional financial goals. Today, with seven branches and the pending opening of another in Largo, the bank’s 85th anniversary can be objectively considered as a milestone of the highest order.

Thus, as the saying goes, “let the festivities begin!”

Since first opening on August 20, 1934, Industrial Bank has remained one of the nation’s Black-owned financial institutions that gives back to any community that it calls home.

Founded in 1934 by Jesse H. Mitchell with the help of nine initial investors, it has grown from its humble start of one location and six employees. Not even the Great Depression, the riots of the 60s or a constant swing within the country’s cultural and political climates have been enough to force Industrial Bank to shutter its doors — a decision that scores of other Black-owned banks, once integral to Black communities across the nation, have been forced to make.

As we continue to explore the past, present and future of this historical company, there will undoubtedly be testimonies that we’ll share from among hundreds, if not thousands of individuals, aspiring entrepreneurs and major businesses and corporations whose first loan for a home or business happened because Industrial Bank made it possible.

Currently, the only African-American family owned bank in the Washington D.C. area, Industrial Bank is among the top five largest Black-owned banks in the U.S. Historically, Black-owned banks in the U.S. were once a financial haven for African-Americans at a time when discrimination in the industry remained commonplace. Since then, these banks have functioned as engines for economic revitalization in often-distressed communities. And while the decline of many Black-owned banks has been lamented, efforts including the #BankBlack movement have kick-started a drive toward individuals opening savings accounts in the push to support these Black institutions.

According to a 2018 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) study, 67 percent of Black-owned banks’ mortgage loans went to Black borrowers, compared with fewer than 1 percent of community banks’ mortgage loans. In addition to loan awards and financial services, Industrial Bank reinvests over 60 percent of its assets back into the community annually while supporting community-based programs like their D.C. Jail Financial Literacy Program.

Bank President B. Doyle Mitchell, Jr., says that like his father and grandfather before him, he still believes in the importance and power of financial education, entrepreneurship and homeownership.

As noted earlier, recent movements, characterized by hashtags #BankBlack, as well as those like #MoveYourMoney and the District’s #DivestToInvest, have helped to increase a belief in and advocacy of Black ownership. But the story continues to be written — and Industrial Bank’s leadership vow to remain within that tale of success and promise for the communities in which its branches are located.

Doyle, in an upcoming report, will speak to the struggles faced by his and other Black-owned financial institutions and share how Industrial Bank has not only survived but thrived.

In 2007, prior to the recession, there were 41 banks with majority African-American ownership. There were 44 in 1986, the year Congress passed a law designating February as National Black History Month. In figures released October 2018 by BankBlackUSA.org, the declining number of Black-owned banks has fallen to just 19. Alternatively, the need for these institutions continues to rise with Blacks as a group sadly underserved by mainstream financial services.

Latest figures indicate that 53 percent of Blacks remain either unbanked or underbanked, meaning they supplement their bank account with alternatives such as check cashers — nearly twice the percentage of the population as a whole, according to the FDIC.

Without question, these businesses do make a difference.

Industrial Bank stands within that difference-making community of financial institutions and rank among the top-five Black-owned financial institutions in the U.S., including OneUnited Bank (Boston), Liberty Bank and Trust Company (New Orleans), Citizens Trust Bank (Atlanta), Industrial Bank (Washington, D.C.) and The Harbor Bank of Maryland (Baltimore).

Congratulations and happy birthday Industrial Bank!

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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