By Richard Manson
Chair, Citizens Bank & Trust
When I came to Nashville in 1967 to attend Fisk University, it was one of the epicenters of protest and intellectual discussions on Race in America. By design, the Race Relations Institute was a forum to bring together social scientists, religious leaders, educators and other notable figures to research and discuss the magnitude of the problems surrounding racial parity.
I vividly recall the palpable tension throughout the city after the death of Martin Luther King, and the distrusting tactical movement on the Black community under the name of Law and Order. The intention was to quail the perceived insurrections in the urban areas, and to put Blacks back in their place. This effort was buttressed by the intentional influx of drugs and the criminalization of the remaining Black men that had not been killed in the Vietnam War. Similarly, the current wave of unrest is a result of 400 years of extreme methods imposed to squash tumult and to suppress the voices of the underrepresented and voiceless to a point of the status quo. I am amazed at how the system has developed strategies with the sole purpose to keep Blacks and other persons of color in their place. We are witnessing the repercussion of last efforts, and its failure to right the wrongs of the American Slave Trade Industries. Not one aspect of Black lives – health, education, environment, economics, etc.– were excluded from the predetermined effort to dehumanize Blacks and, thereby preserve the myth of White superiority.
For more than 40 years, I have worked in Nashville as an attorney in private practice. As a qualified professional and graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School, I felt the pain of discrimination by being denied the opportunity to work in any large, privileged law firms.
Determined, I redirected my course and have represented Iconic figures nationwide, including Rosa Parks and others and became an entrepreneur and started numerous successful businesses– all certified through the TriState Minority Supplier Development Council (TSMSDC). I litigated discrimination cases against the State of Tennessee, Ford Glass, Williamson County and Sony/BMG. Currently, I head a healthcare company, and sit on the board of the Hospital Authority. Over the course of my professional career, I have taught at Tennessee State University, Fisk University and Belmont University. This has given me a unique perspective to see, firsthand, how racism has intentionally and willfully been used to hold America’s Black community back in education, health, and the so-called free economy.
Today, I am uncomfortable and disheartened at how the Black community has been ravaged and suffered due to the social and economic systemic measures used against financial institutions. Institution such as Citizens Savings & Trust Co and others were intentionally oppressed and regarded below peer institutions even with the help of regulatory agencies, making it very difficult to participate because it lacks equity and liquidity. The Nashville community has the wherewithal to fix and preserve the oldest continually operating African American institution in America.
Black America is being pounded by two pandemics, COVID-19 and racism. The same disparities/discriminations that exist in our businesses – the root cause is still the same. I reference Langston Hughes’ poem ‘Harlem’ … “It is clear that “we are not OK.” I am livid, disturbed, motivated and hopeful, BUT … what I am not is OK! It is time for systematic change and definitive accountability!
In her book “The Color of Money,” law professor Mehrsa Baradaran explains how policy makers at every level have barred the Black community from participating in the economic system by blocking Black people from obtaining mortgages, land, loans, and credit. Centuries of denying Black people access to these crucial steps for wealth creation has established the vast Black-White wealth gap that persists today. The same loans White people had access to 100 years ago have been translated into generational wealth today, in the form of land and home ownership, seven-figure investment portfolios, 529 college savings plans, and family businesses.
Over the last century, Black exclusion from economic growth and development has only accelerated, largely because the backbone of Black wealth –Black banks– have faced continuous erosion. At one time there were 100 plus minority banks and now only 21 Black banks have survived in the United States. It just so happens that the nation’s oldest continuously operated Black financial institution, Citizens Savings Bank & Trust, can be found along the historic Jefferson Street in Nashville. Black banks have suffered as a result of lack of support; in many ways, the fact that Black people are viewed as inferior, has led Black banks to become inevitably tied to this same perceived inferiority. However, these banks have historically served Black communities when other institutions refused to, and provided Blacks access to the financial resources, mortgages and loans necessary to preserve our communities.
In order to “fix” America and encourage economic development in the Black community, that development must be anchored in Black banks.