Martin Luther King, Jr., Credit Unionist

While reading Paul Thompson's historical novel The Credit Union Woman a while back, I was struck by an aside about how, during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, an attempt was made to form a credit union. Since then, I've been wondering about what came of that initiative, and today being Martin Luther King Day felt like a good reason to do a bit of research on the topic.

The boycott itself persisted from December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, until December 20th, 1956, when the Supreme Court ruling ending bus segregation took effect. In that time, African Americans in Montgomery got intensely organized under the umbrella of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), which held regular mass meetings and brought together leaders from a broad cross-section of the community. While the impetus for that organization's establishment was handling the logistics of the boycott, it also became a vehicle for advancing other civil-rights related projects, one of which was a credit union.

The first mention I could find of the MIA advancing the idea of forming a financial institution is in a May 24th, 1956 document entitled "Recommendations to MIA Executive Board," in which King lays out a series of restructuring suggestions for the organization. Among these ideas, which were approved by the Executive Board on May 30th, includes the recommendation that:
 
In order to valuably utilize the present relaxed phase of the bus situation and capitalize on the prevailing enthusiasm and amazing togetherness of the people, a strong emphasis shall be placed on ... increasing our economic power through the establishment of a bank. ... The Banking Committee [co-chaired by Ralph David Abernathy] shall meet immediately and make application for a charter through the Federal Home Loan Bank in Greensboro, North Carolina. If the charter is denied at this level a committee shall be immediately sent to Washington to appeal for a charter through the head office of all savings and loan banks. The program committee shall be requested to allot more time in the mass meeting to the voting and banking committees for purposes of the idea over to the people.

 

Read the rest at Credit Union History

 

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