Posted on 03/14/2009

Photo taken on January  1, 1928

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First bank in Harlem
Dunbar Bank
Paul Laurence Dunbar
Upper Manhattan
New York State
North America
New York City
New York to be managed and staffed by African Americans

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Harlem's Dunbar Bank (1928)

Harlem's Dunbar Bank (1928)
A man making a transaction at the Dunbar National Bank.

Opened in 1928 in the Dunbar apartment complex, the Dunbar National Bank was the first bank in Harlem to be managed and staffed by African Americans.
The following is an article that appeared in Time Magazine on Sept 24th 1928
Typographically uninteresting, written in the stiff, undeviating style of all worthy financial announcements, an advertisement, which measured 8½ inches long, three columns wide, made known last week without obvious effort to do so, that John Davison Rockefeller III had made his debut on a directorate. Said the notice, printed in Manhattan dailies: "To serve adequately the banking needs of the Harlem section of New York City, the Dunbar National Bank of New York . . , will open for business September 17, 1928.'' It said the bank was "established particularly to serve the business and personal banking interests of Harlem's Negro population."

Tucked away in the alphabetical list of directors in agate type was the name, John D. Rockefeller III. Ignorant of one of the pet Rockefeller philanthropies, a superficial observer might wonder why a Rockefeller, a Herbert Lee Pratt (Standard Oil), a Henry Elliott Cooper (Equitable Trust Co.). should be interested in a comparatively puny bank whose capital was announced as $500,000, whose declared purpose was to serve Harlem's Negroes.

It is significant that John Davison Rockefeller Jr. should pick the Dunbar National Bank for his son's first financial activity. The Paul Laurence Dunbar Apartments, named for the Negro poet (1872-1906), and built by Rockefeller money, will house the bank.

The significance of Rockefeller Jr.'s choice of the Dunbar National Bank is in the long list of gifts which he has made toward the betterment of Negroes. Tuskegee, Hampton and Fiske have been given many a million; the Spelman Seminary, Negro girls' school in Atlanta, Ga., another beneficiary, gives a leading clue to Rockefeller Jr.'s largess. Rockefeller Jr.'s maternal grandmother was an eager opponent of slavery, helped form a link in the underground railway which slipped escaping slaves to freedom. Rockefeller Jr.'s mother was Laura C. Spelman; in honor of the Spelman family the Atlanta school was founded.

President of the Dunbar National Bank is Joseph D. Higgins, 36 years a banker, onetime (1914-23) Federal Reservist, former vice president of the American Exchange-Irving Trust Co. There is one Negro on the directorate. He is Harvard-graduated Roscoe Conkling Bruce, son of the late Roscoe Conkling Bruce, onetime U. S. Senator from Louisiana.

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