CHARLIE HARDY: Okay. Let's start then. Can you give me a little bit of of
personal background? Tell me a little bit about [cough]
CHARLES EALY: Yes
CHARLIE HARDY Where you come from?
CHARLES EALY: Yeah. I was born in Mariana, Florida. As a boy, I was taken fel--
to Jacksonville, by my aunt. I uh lived with her and attended and graduated from
Cookman Institute, which is now Beth Bethune-Cookman College in uh Daytona,
Florida. After my graduation, I wondering what could I get, to do. And one
afternoon, I walked into a man's place of business whom I had heard a great deal
about him as a businessman and banker. And I asked him for a job. He looked at
me. He said, "Well I give you a job." So, he appointed me a cashier of his
retail business. And he said I did a very fine job. And he, elevate me, elevated
me to the management of one of his branches. And my services and performance are
very, very good, as he said. "That is how I'm gonna, give you a job in my bank."
A bank was a private institution. I went in there and having no, commercial
education or training to any great extent. He said I had to go to business
college. So I went to Walker's Business College at night. There I studied
accounting and uh, I learned some, a little shorthand typing, at that time. Very
fortunate for me, [clears throat] the bank had, a very able accountant, and I
worked in his department, and it was quite an interesting, educational
experience for me, to get in the banking business. And, I stayed there, but
nearly three years. And Major Wright was looking for someone who, had some
banking knowledge, to come to Philadelphia, to work with him.
CH: One sec, can we turn out that light cause we getting a little hum off the
florescent light above there. Gotta pay attention to my sound quality. Okay [laugh]
CE: And he made a search, in the biggest banks in the South. Everybody was tied
up in the institution that they were employed, and they weren't interested in
coming North. So a former professor of his at Georgia State College told them
about me. And he asked him if he would, interview me, to see if I could be, if I
would be interested. And which he did. And I told him I would, I would no doubt
consider it. And Major Wright came to Philadel-- Jacksonville on two occasions,
and talked with me. I decided, I would, make a trial of it and see what we could
do together. However, the bank where I was employed told me if I did not like
Philadelphia, my job, would be open so I could return within a reasonable length
of time. So I got, I came here. A little rough sailing to start off with,
because the bank had not been opened only about three months. So many things
ha-- had to be done from, from the beginning. So we worked from nine in the
morning to nine at night, a long period of time. So the bank was, was leased,
the bank was subsequently incorporated in a trust company.
CH: That was in '26, I think, right?
CE: Yeah. About '24, I guess. In a trust company. And then, we began to grow.
From the record established, we built one of the best banks in the whole nation,
though it was small.
CH: I guess it was one of the most solvent, is it?
CE: And, when President Roosevelt closed all the banks and reexamined them,
there were 100 institutions were allowed to reopen. And we were one of the 100.
And from the tactical record, I think we topped to 99, because some of those,
institutions which were allowed to reopen, failed within the first year. I think
I can truthfully, truthfully say this: there has never been, and I cannot
foresee there ever will be, an institution that could pay all its deposits off,
on demand. And that was a method that was used, that institutions are using
today. Deposits first and come to borrowing. Yet, he owed me five thousand
dollars. You got 3,000 on deposit. Pay me and I pay him. That was a team that
was established by the Citizens Southern Bank and Trust Company. As time goes
on, that team's become brighter and more effective, effective. Another, fine
fate of the Citizens Southern Bank and Trust Company through the many years of
his, of his, of its existence under management that was found, under which it
was founded, it never borrowed from its correspondent bank but once, which was
at the beginning, a small sum of twenty five hundred dollars. Paid it off in
less than 60 days. From then, from then on, all through the years, Depression
and whatnot, never borrowed a dime from its correspondent bank or any other
source. It's a marvelous record. And I'm saying I'm very happy to have been a
part of that team.
CH: Know what I'd like to ask you about is the, the early years of the bank. You
know, the period I'm really interested in is the a early '20s there, when you
first arrived in the city, when the bank was just getting underway. Now you say
when you came up, when you came up Major Wright had already opened the bank? It
had been going just a couple of months?
CE: Yeah, yeah, just about a few months old.
CH: What had motivated you to come to Philadelphia? It sounded like you were
doing well in Florida.
CE: Well, sometimes men are influenced to do certain things because of
circumstances. I can-- I might say I proved that statement by using my grandson.
He began banking in Philadelphia, at the Philadelphia National Bank in the trust
department. He was there about two years. They went to Detroit, the trust
department, Detroit National Bank. With less than two years, he wa-- he was
promoted as assistant vice-president because he'd done, in that short period of
time, more than $22 million in trust business. His name went throughout the
country. Many banks bidded for him. So he accept a position in a bank in
Arizona. After he was there one week, he was promoted, second in command with a
title of vice-president.
CH:[Hum] So you can see how a man can be motivated from one place to another.
CH: So you saw the possibility of advancement by coming to Philadelphia.
CE: That's it. That's right.
CH: Now in the early days of the bank, did you all, Major Wright and the bank,
appeal to Southerners who had recently come to the city or to native Philadelphians?-
CE: No, we appealed to the people in Philadelphia. The name was Citizens and
Southern, which means the citizens of Philadelphia and the Southerners who had
migrated here. But it was a general appeal to people, regardless of race, color creed.
CH: Did you find during the early days you had more depositors among the people
who'd come from the South?
CE: I think we did at the beginning, because the people from the South were more
racial conscious than the people in the North, because they had evidence what it
meant to build and create something for themselves, and be independent
economically. That's the reason that, practically most our big business in the South.
CH: Max Martin was telling me that the same sort of thing happened with his
father in the realty business.
That when he first came here, you know, early 19-teens, he had a limited
clientele, and what clientele he did have was, was white men.
CH: And then when the migration began and people started coming up, that's when
all the Southerners coming up started to, to buy from him, and that's when his
business really took off.
CE: Um-hm. Um-hm.
CH: You know, one of the things that, I'm interested in is that division or the
different attitudes between the native Philadelphians and the, the men and women
coming up from the South. And you just pointed out one difference is that the a
Southerners were more likely to um support black businesses, business of their
own people. Were there other differences that you found during those early years
in the city?
CE: Well… no. I think on a whole, we were welcome here. One factor, I think,
helped us quite a bit [clears throat]. Major Wright or his son, he had been
living here for a number of years. Um, I think he was the first black man, to
earn his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. And he was connected with the
A.M.E Church. There was an editor of The Christian Recorder. That, gave, Major
Wright a good beginning. They felt that he was somebody knew who had been to
Philadelphia a number of times, visiting his son and his family, and he was
fairly well known. In fact, Major Wright was a man of, national repute. He was a
major in the United States Army, he was an educator, and recognized throughout
the country, as a person of of high standing. So those things are, contributed,
largely to our beginning.
CH: In the early days, have who were your first major depositors?
CE: Well, it's a difficult thing to say because there was several. A difficult
thing to say. Several. Several people had nice accounts in the bank.
CH: Can you mention who they were?
CE: Well, in the banking… services, you never like, never like to call names.
CH: Even sixty years ago now? [Laughs]
CE: Never like to call names under any circumstances.
CH: Okay. It, it would be, you know, for the historical record interesting,
since I don't think the records from then exist anymore. I don't--
CE: Yes, yes. But a descendants are here, you see.
CH: Okay. Um now when Citizens and Southern started, the-- the major black bank
in town was Brown and Stevens. Did you all have any contact with, with A.C.
Brown or Andy Stevens or--
CE: No, we did not. We did not have any, connection at all with Brown and
Stevens bank here. We knew the partners, and our relationship was friendly
'cause there was plenty here to do, more than, both together could not do a
complete, perfect job, so we had no right to have any unfriendly relationship.
CH: What were, what were your um thoughts about Brown and Stevens before they
went under, you know?
CE: What was that?
CH: What position, what did you think about the Brown and Stevens Bank? Um when you--
CH: Had you heard about them before you came North?
CE: I heard about them before I came North.
CH: Because my impression was that they were one of the nationally one of the
CE: It was-
CH: banks in the country.
CE: It was. My criticism, after, learning more about the operation, is,-- is it
was tied up to heavily in real estate. You see, running a bank is different from
the average business. You're supposed to put your assets, percentage-wise, in
certain commercial areas. And always limit yourself in the field of real estate.
The cause of fact, real estate, is a -- can be something today, and practically
nothing tomorrow, to to a great extent. Hold this a minute. [clears throat]
Here. Brown & Stevens, as I stated, they were too heavily engaged in real
estate. That was a big mistake that they made. And uh Mr. Brown was a banker. In
fact he came here from Norfolk, if I understand. And, of course, Mr. Stevens was
a Philadelphian. He had a real estate department which was operated by a very
CH: Who was that?
CE: Let me see, what was his name?
CH: I spoke to Mr. Amey who worked in the real estate department there.
CE: Yeah. I can't think of this man's name, but he was a very able man. With the
economy, you see, a time would change. It would become an ebb and flow
situation. And um, that's a due to the conditions of the country, to a great
extent. And be-- and see, , we didn't have deposit insurance at that time. And
sometimes things would slump for a long period of time. Then people would be out
of jobs, things like that, have to draw heavy on their reserves and so forth.
And while you had a whole lotta of your assets tied up in real estate, which you
consider a fixed asset, it brings unusual strain on you. And you just can't meet
CH: um, Had there-- had there been any indications that
CH: Brown and Stevens would go under before the collapse came?
CE: There was no indication. No, they just got in serious trouble. Seemed to me,
within a week's time.
CH: Now once they, they did collapse and, um I guess, they were put in
bankruptcy and was there any talk of Citizens and Southern becoming involved
in-- in, and taking over their operation?
CE: Uh-uhn. No.
CH: Or in helping with the--
CE: No. We wouldn't have considered them. For the reason of the fact, they were
larger than we, were, and a it would have been a dangerous, dangerous situation
for us, but due to the fact that, that the reason that caused them to fail, you
see? We would have been in the same boat they were in. See, an institution, as
small, can't take over a failing institution that's much larger. [background
noise] To a certain extent, to do. So we didn't consider that at all. So
CH: Right. Now when Brown and Stevens failed, it seemed to have dealt a really
serious blow to black businesses--
CE: It did.
CH: And just the morale of black enterprise in the city.
CE: That's it. That's it, because people thought--
CH: Can you tell me about that?
CE: Well, Brown & Stevens Bank had a high rate in here. I remember when it
became [cough] a hundred, bil-- million dollar, institution. People looked on
that as something huge.. And it was at that time. And they had explicit
confidence. But I can say this: that, it didn't fail because of some dishonesty,
from what you could ascertain, just a clean, [background noise] honest failure,
which was saying was in their favor, and the people looked at it in that way,
there ain't judgment.
CH: What did it do to the morale of um --
CE: Well, [clear throat] with our institution, we did not feel the effect of it
at all. In fact, even the Depression, we did not feel the effect of the
Depression. We were one of the, very few banks that had no indication of a run.
CH: Yeah. And I know Citizens and Southern seems to have been solid as a rock
throughout its history. But how about a-- just the feeling in the black business community?
CE: Well, the thing of this, there was a little, disturbance for the reasons of
fact, the businesses that did business with them had to find another source of
credit, and uh it was a difficult thing for them to find it for the reason of
the fact that businesses were so small. See, at that time, Max did not cater to
small depositors, I mean in particular, commercial depositors. And uh-- uh for
those people to be able to borrow was very limited. That's when you had so many
finance companies in Philadelphia, where that's the place you could go and get
small loans, a loan for your small business, though it'd cost you quite a bit.
But that's your main source. That went on until the [cough] Depression years,
when Mr. Roosevelt say, the man's going to lend the people, so I'm going to
flood them with money.
CH: Humph [noise]
CE: And he did that. And then what happened, the finance companies went out of business.
CH: Did you all, when during the '20s, make commercial loans to small businesses?
CE: Oh yes, because, see our business, a-- all our loans were made to small
businesses because, they didn't have the resources to-- they could accommodate
in big business.
CH: Hm. Hm. Let me ask you a couple of questions about the other banks in the
area, then I want to a zero in on operations at Citizens and Southern. I guess
the other bank in town, colored, black, bank in town at the time was Keystone,
with old man Asbury.
CE: Keystone came in-- no, Keystone came in later years. Keystone, founded, by
J. C. Asbury, an attorney here. They, now we took them over, because they were small.
CH: But they weren't in operation in the '20s?
CE: Not in the early '20s. Might have been in the late '20s.
CE: Not in the early.
CH: There was just the Keystone Aid Society, then?
CE: Well, see, there was a Keystone Insurance Company here.
CH: Right. I thought they had a bank attached with them during the '20s.
CE: Well, the, the bank was an outgrowth of the Keystone Insurance Company,
because Mr. Asbury headed both of them.
CE: And also he was the head of the Eden Cemetery Company too.
CH: What was Asbury like?
CE: Mr. Asbury was an attorney, recognized politician nationwide, I mean
statewide. He was a very able man, I'll say that. But he had his hands in three
big pies. And he had no, had no backup. See, he had no-- no arm to lean on. And
things were growing so it just got outta control, just outgrew his-- his
capacity to manage the effects of it.
CH: Yeah. Because he was in a Vare's hip pocket too, politically, I guess.
CE: Yes. Um-hm.
CH: I was going back through um The Tribune from the '20s, reading through
there, uh talking to some people who were um active politically in the '20s,
trying to re-piece the politics together too. And uh Asbury and-- has a mixed
reputation amongst the (laughs)-- politically at least.
CE: He, he was recognized as a, a political factor here. Member of the state
legislature, and a he had a lot of influence and power.
CH: Did uh anyone at the bank become involved in politics? Yourself or Major
Wright during those early years?
CE: Uh-uhn. Yeah.
CH: Stayed clear?
CE: Stayed clear.
CH: Was that a conscious decision or just because it was outside of your interests?
CE: [Breaths] Well, didn't actually got be interested in politics, so to speak
but not to get involved, in it. As you'd look over the banking fraternity, so
to speak, banking's not poveraged [sic] politicians, because they serve the
people, and they want to be neutral, so they don't get involved even with those
who hold offices in government and play it cool, stick to the facts of whatever
position they're in, not get out here for this one and the other one. They don't
get involved with that.
CH: Hm. Let me ask you some more especially on--you know, the, the focus of the
work I've been doing is on the influence that the Southerns had, the southern
newcomers had on the city. And how they changed it. And also the differences
between the Southerners and the Old Philadelphians. Um and I think I read that
one of the activities of Citizens and Southern in the early years was to
encourage new and small depositors through, through the churches.
CH: Would stick it in their mattress or, you know,
CE: Umhum wherever.
CE: Um-hm. I know. Um-hm.
CH: Can you tell me a bit about how you all made the decision to a pursue the
small investors and what groups you did target or try to encourage to saving and
what was the reasons behind that?
CE: Well, the thing is this: businesswise, when very few people were in business
at that time, see? And we canvassed neighborhoods, spoke in a number of churches
like that, made them-- them aware of what banks can do for them. There was a
greater need than they realized for a bank. Then the people began to respond.
And they could come and get loans, and things like that. They want, and they
became aware what banking really means to people.
CH: How did you sell it to the community?
CE: Well, the thing was, we did have a good point there. [clears throat] At that
time,, when people wanted money, they'd go to finance companies. See, for the
price of having a settlement in buying a property, they had the settlement,
they'd find you need two or $300 to complete the settlement. And they'd go to
finance companies. Doesn't matter how he got the money, put the money on the
table, you can raise, do that same thing with the bank at six percent interest,
instead of paying two and a half percent on unpaid balance monthly. He stood, he
stood, he understood that. And then it seemed to begin to come in. Try to
establish a credit rating with the institution.
CH: That's a hard uh logic to argue with, I guess. [laughs]
CE: That's right. That's something. He could see the difference. Yes.
CH: So that was one way you could to a get people to-- to realize--
CE: Oh yes. And see--
CH: What a bank was. To say--
CH: Here, we'll give you, we'll only charge you six percent a year, instead of
three and a half percent a month.
CE: That's the unpaid balance.
CE: See, to build anything is service. Service. When you give people service,
you can build. And that's a very, that's the fact of it.
CH: Did you find it was hard to overcome the resistance of people to put their
money in a black bank? --
CE: Well, it was a hard, to get them to understand, but they had, they mostly
had been living in another world, so to speak.
CH: What was that other world?
CE: Dealing with institutions that charged them a tremendous, high rate of
interest on their loans that they had been given.
CH: So they'd look at you and they'd say, a what's that-- what are you not
telling us or -- [laughs]
CE: Well, the thing of this, some of them didn't hardly believe they'd earned it
at the beginning. We haven't, we sent a many people home, went over things very
carefully and thoroughly with them, to see the contrast.
CH: Okay. What was your, your official um function with the bank?
CE: I retired from the bank. I was a vice-president and member of the board of
directors when I retired.
CH: How about when you first came in um?
CE: No, I was just associated.
CH: Yeah. But you were the only person at that point, really, with any banking experience.
CE: That's right.
CH: So did they lean a lot upon your advice?
CE: Oh yeah, definite.
CH: Did you uh, were you a basically then in charge of day-to-day operations in
CE: Everyday operations. I was into everything there.
CH: What role did Major Wright play then?
CE: Oh, he the executive officer. Was… and we, we had consultations
frequently on different things. Major Wight had some knowledge of banking 'cause
he was a member of the board of directors of a bank in Savannah.
CH: Ah, I was not aware of that.
CE: So he had some knowledge of it. Yeah.
CH: What were your-- your early impressions of Philadelphia,
CE: At that time?
CH: When you first arrived?
CE: Well, Philadelphia was not a modern city. I think our bank was the first
bank to use machines for bookkeeping and all like that in the city. All did what
they call, did bookkeeping by hand. Uh, of course I was informed by a person
that had been to Philadelphia many times that I'd find the city really backward.
Our fire department was a-- was a-- was moved by horses, no motorized fire
department here,, which in the South, I don't think I'd ever seen a fire
department with horses.
CE: Might have for a, for a day had them before my day, but I'd never seen them
with horse. So it was uh behind I'd say, Jacksonville, Florida, know that and
Jacksonville was like all the other cities I a, during the South.
CH: I spoke, a number of years ago, I spoke to a Harvey Wilson who was a
wholesale grocer and then church historian at Mother Bethel. He died a couple of
years ago at 102. And he came up from Jacksonville, and he said a the first
impression he had of Philadelphia was that the men didn't know how to dress,
that he'd come from Jacksonville, which was the New York of the South--
And that Philadelphia fashions were really behind the times, but after a while,
they sort of caught up and learned a, which I thought was--
CE: Yeah. Um-hm. Well, very, it's a very conservative city.
CH: Did you find that there was um any difference socially uh between the
Southerners and the Northerners?
CE: Well, that was a slight difference, but not noticeable.
CH: So you didn't feel any exclusion?
CE: No, no. I did not.-
CH: I know a number of people who came up still have some resentment?
CE: Yeah, I did not. Uh they were very hospitable to me and made me welcome. And
I visited many homes and canvassed for the bank. I don't know how many homes I
didn't visit, and was received with open arms.
CH: Now when um Brown and Stevens went out of business, just from reading The
Tribune, it seems that you all at Citizens and Southern made a concerted effort
to um move ahead then, to, there--
CE: Well, quite naturally, because it was easier to move ahead, you see.
CE: We had no had no competition.
CH: And also, to revive the um Negro Business League in the city --
CE: Yeah, you mean the National Negro Business League?
CH: Were you involved at that?
CE: I was to a certain extent later on. See what the National Negro Business
League attempted to do, particularly here, was to get the grocery men to buy
cooperatively. So they borrowed a man from Tuskegee Institute to come here. And
I with five or six other men went with him. It was a tough situation there. I
was told by a businessman here that you're trying to do a job with the toughest
businessmen in Philadelphia. They didn't have a trust with confidence, in each
other. They thought that, you would know who's they's buying and like that, and
how much they're buying, things like that. Couldn't get it out of their heads.
They called it, initials, were, initials were CMA Stores. There was a wholesaler
in Camden, New Jersey, agreed to supply them, wherein that they could compete.
They were called American Stores.
CE: And, we just couldn't get it going here. Couldn't get it going.
CH: When was this about?
CE: That was in the '20s, late '20s.
CH: Because I know Bishop [R.R.] Wright had attempted to get a grocery going
with William Moses, United Groceries.
CE: Yeah, that was United. That was United Grocers. That was retail.
CE: It was kind of a chain. There was three stores, I think, involved.
CH: Really, did they get three stores? Were they still in operation when you
arrived in the city?
CE: Yeah, they were going.
CH: Can you tell me a bit about that? I thought they went out of business during
CE: No, and it began during the war, if I, I understand it correctly. They went
out of business--they stayed in business about, about nearly two years after I arrived.
CH: Huh. What happened there?
CE: Well, in other words, it was lack of know-how. And, they couldn't get
anybody, as far as blacks was concerned. Be, helped operate the stores. You see,
one interesting thing about Major Wright's life. He would never start a bank in
Philadelphia without having somebody in the operation who had a general
knowledge of banking. I admire that thing about him.
CH: That was your role?
CE: Yeah. And I find that's true, that's-- that's as true as it, as the sun
shining and anything, you don't know it, don't touch it unless you find a man
that knows something about it.
CH: Hm. And that seems to have been a problem that really plagued black
businesses all during
CE: That's right.
CH: That generation, that era
CE: That's right, because you doing nothing but taking a gamble.
CH: Huh. I was reading Calm-- Sam Redding. Do you remember?
CE: Well, Sam Redding was the one that told me about the black grocers here.
That he was right. The toughest group of businessmen in town. And I found he was right.
CH: Huh, I was reading his columns in The Tribune. He wrote a column I guess on businesses.
CE: Yeah, that's right. That's right.
CH: And complained, or, or you know, he bemoaned the fact that so many
businesses started with the good intentions--
CE: That's right.
CH: But they fell apart because of the lack of know-how.
CE: That's it. You see, it, one thing we can say about Negro enterprises, they
didn't fail for being dishonest and, crooked. They failed solely by lack of know-how.
CH: How did y'all-- what did you all do to try and overcome that?
CE: Well, a little bit of it's still around today. See, it's sad when
anybody--race has nothing to do with this statement--man, who, thinks he knows
and he doesn't know.
CH: Yeah. Were there any concerted efforts though, during the '20s, to say, you
know, look, we've got a real problem here. You know, or businesses that start
can't keep going. We've got to band together. We've got, we've got to train
people. We've got to find trained people and bring them to Philadelphia.
Something, you know, something's got to give.
CE: See, well, see there was no effort in that-- in that way. Because, to find
the people that you need, would be a difficult thing because they had no floats.
CH: Had no --
CE: No floats. People you need, already tied up in something. So you have to
just stumble upon somebody. And a, that's true too, I believe, to a degree today
with us. Negros who are prepared, they, they got all the work they can do.
[Laughter] People are after them. But they're far in between.
CH: Who were the successful businessmen then? Who were the models during the the '20s?
CE: In my observation, I think Mr. Asbury was the most prominent businessman in
Philadelphia. I really feel that way. The cause of fact [clears throat] he had a
very successful insurance business, he started a bank, had Eden Cemetery, and to
my way of thinking, he was the most outstanding businessman in town.
CH: Hum, how about after Asbury? Who would be in the second ring then?
CE: Well, see, he was so far out front, until, say if somebody had, a say, if
you could compare with, it would be a difficult thing because nearly everybody
about the same.
CH: How about somebody like John T. Gibson?
CE: Oh, John T. Gibson, was a, was considered the wealthiest, Negro in
Pennsylvania, but he didn't last too long, see.
CE: Why he failed, different statements are made, but to prove them, I think
would be a difficult thing to do.
CH: When did he go out of business?
CE: Let's see. John T-- Mr. Gibson bought the theater that was owned by Brown & Stevens.
CH: Dunbar. Yeah.
CE: Yeah. Dunbar Theater. They bought that. They operated that for some time and
had a number of players coming in to sit in, like that. Fairly good attendance.
But understand [Clears throat] he went into a real estate deal that tricked him.
That's my understanding. And that was his downfall.
CH: I know from the teens, they always held up, um again, Brown and Stevens,
then, um Gibson as the two outstanding businesses and--
CE: Yeah. Yeah. They did. Um-hm. Yeah.
CH: He'd see Brown and Gibson as the two outstanding businessmen in the city during
CE: Yeah, that.
CH: That period. And then I guess Cassell sort of--
CE: And Feel, and the undertaking professional, Feel. He was the tops, in fact,
I think in the whole state.
CH: Hm. How about Joe Trent?
CE: Mr. Trent was a builder, a very fine builder. I often pass the building he
built on 19th Street, which is part of the Graduate Hospital. All that, the
improvements, the structure he built is standing there, is one of the best-built
structures in this whole state.
CH: So he would have to be in that, that second class, then of--
CE: Well, with him, with him in the construction business with Frederick
Massiah, who came on late, who was a builder of national repute, an engineer.
CH: I heard his name mentioned for the first time, just um a couple of days ago.
CE: Hu hum
CH: Apparently he was a, a stone contractor.
CE: H, he was, in building a structure, steel man is first. That's where he came in.
CE: Foundation and all that. Yeah. And he was ace in his field. He graduated
from University of Pennsylvania.
CH: Did he?
CE: Yeah. In architecture. He was, with him, at that, in his lifetime, the only
three men in that category, a man in Atlanta and somebody, a fellow out of West
and Massiah. Of color.
CH: And when did he start, start in business?
CE: Well I couldn't tell because I --
CH: Would that have been the 20s or--
CE: Wasn't the 20s?
CH: Wasn't the 20s.
CE: Make no mistake.
CE: Yeah was before the war. He, Yeah he was a tremendous fellow.
CH: So then, Asbury really stood out front. Now, something else I wanted to ask
you about, and that is, again, going through The Tribune--let me get my notes
out here. Um… [paper rustling] in March of 1924, apparently, there was a
meeting at Citizens and Southern of Southerners, especially Georgians, who um
gathered to organize a business association. And the people present were C. M. Brinson--
CE: C. M. Brinson? Oh, he was a, a painter. Yeah, C. M. Brinson, he was from
CH: Then there was Thomas Rivers, Lawnside, New Jersey.
CE: I didn't know of him.
CH: And E. C. Duberry, whose name I've seen mentioned elsewhere and--
CE: E. C. Duberry? I can't picture him.
CH: Contract, brick contractor, layer, Hod Carriers Union, something like that?
CE: E.C. Duberry. I don't recall him.
CH: Hm. Do you have any recollection of, of I think this was, my, my impression
is this was part of Major Wright's effort to um revive the--
CE: Well, I'll tell you one thing. Major Wright put, had put forth so many
special efforts, it be hard to pick them all out. He did the Flower Show here,
at here at the Civic Center. He, he's the father of that. There was no flower
show until he had one.
CH: Oh yeah?
CE: That's a fact. Had no Flower Show until Major Wright started one.
CH: When was that about? Any idea?
CE: I don't know how many years ago but he-------(??) the flower show. It was his idea.
CH: Amongst-- In that series of efforts he started up, um… um particularly
with the Philadelphia branch of the Negro Business League and I guess his effort
to organize this group of Southerners into a business league, what happened with
all of that? An-d- Was he able to put anything together to--
CE: I don't think he was able to put that together. See, a man, in his lifetime,
very active, liked to see things move, see the great need for various things. In
most cases, it's a hit and a miss. Somebody catches the idea and develops it.
Said about that flower show, people paid no attention to flower show, but
someone got the idea, made it one of the biggest things of its kind in the
nation. Am I right or wrong?
CH: Oh, here, yeah. They've got street signs for it.
CE: That's right.
CH: They don't have street signs to get you into the city, but-- [laughs]
CE: That's exactly, for that flower show. [laughs] It's something huge.
[laughter] You see what I'm talking about? And, and not many people know about that.
CE: Of course, start in their humble way, let it blossom, you know, whose
thought it was.
CH: Yeah. Hum. In those early days, during the '20s, what was your
relationship, what was your relationship to the white banks?
CE: Well, our corresponding bank here--I think we had two--was the Bank of North
America, which is the First Pennsylvania Bank now, and a bank called The
Southwark National Bank, which is on South Second Street, I think. Those were
the two banks we did business with. Oh yes, we did a little business with the
Continental Bank, with the Broad Street Trust Company, during that time. [clears
throat] Yes, our relationships were very good.
CH: Were there any efforts to um, among other banks in the community, to drive
you out of business, resentment against a black bank in the city?
CE: No, none in the world. Not any.
CH: No? Because I know the contractors and realtors faced some, some real uh
underhanded competition to drive them out of business.
CE: Yeah, yeah. But no, everything was very lovely. And a Mr. Asa S. Wing,
president probably at National Bank, was very close to us personally. Although
it was not a correspondent bank, of ours.
CH: So really a cordial and friendly relationships with the banking community as
CE: Very cordial. Yes, as a whole.
CH: No, no efforts to--
CE: No resentment. Nothing. No resentment whatsoever.
CH: Huh. Along the same lines, I guess one of, of the felt needs for Brown &
Stevens and Citizen & Southern was um the lack of services that white banks
performed for black businessmen or depositors or whatever. I guess most white
banks did not, um--
CE: Cater, you mean?
CH: Cater to blacks.
CE: Well, they did not as far as I could understand and see. They didn't cater
to them. Because bank business was so small on such a few. They had no standing
or recognition at all. Some of them didn't know anything about them.
CH: Hm. Can you tell me a bit more about the um those--the first few years, you
know, a bit more about you know what your objectives were, what your great
successes were, the failures during that, that period when you were first
getting your feet on the ground and establishing, yourselves in the city?
CE: Well, [clears throat] success, we had an idea of what we had to do to
succeed here. . We made a lot of personal sacrifices, all down, all along the
way to succeed. And a as the head of the institution, Major Wright, made unusual
sacrifices. There are people who had that idea today, when you have all these
failures we have, see a lot of people didn't get anything, wanted to know how,
only thing in it for is how much money they can get out of it. You can't start a
business like that. You start as a servant for the people. If you serve them
well, you'll be taken care of. And we found that to be a fact.
CH: What were the failures of those early years? What, what oh-- what hopes that
you had that weren't realized or--
CE: Well, a failure, failures with Negro businesses and the in the programs that
they tried to get over. There's just one thing: lack of know-how. For an
example, a lot of them had movements to go to Africa. Someone decided to sh--
charge ships, you know, like a business. Had a company here called, had, had
somewhat of an African name. People, [little laugh] to my way of thinking, they
didn't know where Africa was.
CH: This isn't Garvey's a Black Star Line. This is something similar?
CE: Well, not, not even that. Offsprings from that. I think the Garvey idea was
all right, but it was ahead of its day. That's the only thing was wrong with
that. There was a man who worked hard, Purcell, was ahead of his day.
CH: Who, who was a was Oliver Purcell, you said?
CE: I said he was ahead of his day.
CH: Who was he?
CE: Oh, Garvey.
CH: Oh, Garvey. Yeah.
CE: Yeah, Garvey's movement was ahead of its day. It should be around now.
CH: [laughs] They'd be behind the times now, right? [laughter]
CE: He needs to be around now.
CH: Yeah, he apparently had some real supporters in Philadelphia.
CE: That the talk? Practically all down the Atlantic coast, they had good supporters.
CH: Right. Who we, or just to make a leap, apparently Aus Norris was a Garvey
CE: G. Austin Norris the lawyer?
CE: I think he was somewhat connected to that. I don't know to what extent.
CH: Yeah, I think they had the Black Star account in Philadelphia. Him and Merce Lewis.
CE: Yeah, Mercer Lewis.
CH: Who was the bank's legal counsel?
CE: Well, we had more than one legal counsel. We had John A. Parks was one.
Arthur Dennis was one. Let me see.
CH: Parks, you all ran into trouble with, right?
CE: And a Raymond Pace Alexander was one. Louis Tannenba--Tannenbowl [sp] was
one. G. S. Russell was one. And a--
CH: So you didn't stay with one particular firm or group?
CE: We had always two at the same time. Always had two at the same time.
CH: What was--
CE: One white, one colored.
CH: Huh. Cover yourself in both communities.
CE: That's right. Because some things are a little unethical for a color lawyer
to do, so we'd be careful not to, you know, to get him involved.
CH: Ah. Can you give me a for instance?
CE: Well, you might have a client… that you wouldn't like to see, get a
colored lawyer as your at--
CH: You'll have any dealings with um Mr. --
CE: We never had an Mr. D--[G. Edward] Dickerson, on our staff, legal staff, but
he was a very fine attorney. I knew him quite well. Very, very prominent. He was
the most prominent attorney in town when we came here.
CH: Dickerson was?
CE: Hum hum
CH: Yeah that was, it seems he was the uh I guess the most active civil rights lawyer.
CE: That's right. He was the first Negr-- first Negro or the bar association--
to represent a client before the United States Supreme Court.
CH: Dickerson was?
CE: That's right.
CH: I wasn't aware of that. Yeah. I was talking to a Mr. Summers, um--
CH: John Summers, he was uh, I guess back when you arrived in town he was city
editor for the um Public Journal, Arthur Lynch's paper,
CE: Yeah, I didn't know yeah.
CH: And he ran for state legislature in 1934.
CH: Yeah, J. B. Summers.
CE: He was editor of what kind of paper?
CH: The, um Arthur Lynch's paper. Um the--
CE: Oh yeah I remember Arthur Lynch. He did have some kind of paper. I'd
forgotten all about it.
CH: It was The Public Journal, right?
CE: I don't remember the name, but I remember hearing some kind of paper.
CH: Yeah. And um, what was I gonna ask about it, he um, he had a great deal of
respect for Dickerson.
CH: He said uh, but, but in his opinion the best practicing attorney in the city
during that period was um John Sparks. He said--
CE: Well, John Spark was a big prominent attorney but before I knew uh him, he
always worked for the city as solicitor, assistant city solicitor
CE: And the real estate department. He was a fine was a real estate lawyer,
CE: One of the top in the city, bar nobody.
CH: That's, that's a, seems to be the job that a when one of the mayor in the
Vare machine had to a, had to give, had to come through with a little patronage
it seems that the job to a black lawyer would be assistant city solicitor.
Asbury, John Parks, John Sparks, Merce Lewis, um seems to be the city job,
CH: The ONLY city job, patronage job for a black lawyer back then.
CE: That's right, that's right.
CH: Hum. Um… [background noise] I'd like to add um, to see whether you could
tell me a bit more about the um your typical southern depositor or um-- I'm
interested in finding out more about um the people who were straight off the
farm, came up to the city, and got their jobs as domestics, or working in one of
the war industries, or for the PRT, or whatever. And then came to Citizens and
Southern to start their first bank accounts. What sort of people they were um.
CE: Well, I'll tell you one thing: they were very loyal. I'll give you an
instance of that. I can never forget it. Sometime I tell people about it, it
almost brings tears to my eyes. During the Depression there were runs on the
banks nationwide. A man came to my office, said, "How things are going?" I said,
"Very well." He said, "Well, I'm going to put a little bit more in." And put in
200 dollars on his account to help it go along.
Esther and I told a man the other day, people have been very loyal to me and the
things which I have been associated with. So the debt which I owe, the public I
will never be able to pay it if I live a thousand years.
CH: Hm. Yep. That's a nice feeling to have I, think. Can you tell me a bit more
about, you know, the Southerners?
CE: Well, let's see, the Southerners were taught to help your own. I gave you an
example of that. I'll give you two examples. My daughter, and I, and a man, and
his wife, good friends of ours, we motored down to Miami, Florida. And we
stopped overnight in Daytona. We got there, late in the afternoon. And a where
we stopped had dinner and whatnot. So I thought I'd kind of walk around, and
talk to some of the businessmen. So I went in the drugstore. I talked with the
druggist. He said-- I asked him how was the business. They had done very nicely.
And said, "I'll tell you one thing. We own a branch." I said, "Branch?" He said,
"Yeah." I said, "Where?" He named a town. I said, "Many colored people live
there?" He said, "Quite a few." "You see," he said, "The doctors here encourage
their patient to go, go to a black drugstore and get a prescription filled." I
said, "They do?" He said, "Yes. They tell you take it to such-and-such
drugstore, owned by a black person." Hm. In the part of the country I'm from,
it's just the opposite.
CH: You mean Philadelphia?
CE: And the other example, a friend of mine was, was a druggist. He went down in
Virginia and, there was a certain drug they wanted to get. So he walked to a
drugstore nearby, asked for this drug, drugger looked at him, said, "I'll tell
you, there's a colored drugstore right down the street. They just about a couple
of blocks. He carries this drug." It opened his eyes. He went on down and got
it. These things are just opposite in the North. So that is in the, Southern
mind. It is part of its fibers so to speak. You see. Segregation had its bad
features and its good features. I don't know what you say. And the proof of it,
when the doors were thrown wide open to us nationwide, I never shall forget what
a businessman said to me. Said, "Mr. Ealy, we need at least ten years, to
prepare to meet this new day." Said, "So many businesses going to be wiped out."
CE: Negro hotels don't exist anywhere in the country at any appreciable extent,
as far as I know. Because if you go to the other hotels, you pay, you doesn't
have to pay any more per day. So why should they get in this little hut? And my
nation not going to let him get in there. So that industry was gone forever.
You see? And uh-- And it's true in other, other businesses. Stores, dry good
stores, or whatnot. Now, you go in these stores today, you find black folks in
there doing everything the other man is doing. Now those federal savings and
loans not too far from here, nobody in there but blacks. The manager's black.
CE: Some of the big banks, the biggest branch is run by blacks. They have
learned a great deal about us. Once had the idea you just couldn't do it
because. That day is gone. It's never been in reality when we wiped it out of
his mind and his soul, that could do it and do it more efficiently in many cases
than he can do it.
CH: I guess the old line was uh "Mr. Charlie can do it better," right?
CE: Yeah. I never shall forget, we had a neighbor. She was a teller at one big
savings fund. And she asked me one month, because sometimes we'd ride together
quite a time, said, "Do you all ever evaluate your tellers?" I said, "No." Said,
"Do your?" Said, "Yeah." She had a booklet, tellers in it: 400 dollar, 50 dollar
shorted; 60 dollar long; and the whole zig-zag it. But on her record, she only
had one dollar, out of balance and said, "I know where that dollar is." They
found that black folks can count money too. [laughter] You see I know how. So
it's been a revelation been established in the last thirty years.
CE: Otherwise-- he had acres of diamonds around him but he didn't know it.
That's a statement Booker Washington made, delivered an address in Atlanta,
Georgia in 1904, the Cotton Exposition, told about people on the ship sailing
south, that needed fresh water. At that time ship was at the mouth of the Amazon
River. Cast down your buckets where you are. He, he found that, in reality it's
true. Got it right here. He discovered that. It's been amazing.
CH: Ronald Reagan may think differently, but a [laughter].
CE: Well Reagan, Reagan is a man, who-- I call him a racist. And I could say
something, but I won't say it because its pretty nasty. [laughter] But, he is a
person you can't tell him anything. He knows everything and that's why he's a failure.
CE: He went to Europe the other day, that premiere from uh Spain, ate him up.
CH: He does very well with prepared addresses but a when he has to uh think--
CE: Think and uh actions--think-- he flunks.
CE: He made a fine speech the other day, no doubt about it. He made uh, uh a
little speech that should go down in history, but that's all he can do.
CH: Yup. Well years, years and years of training he can get up for the GE, you
know boys. And a--
CE: Tell you. The thing is--now I tell you now the condition of his
administration I don't blame him, solely for it. I blame Congress more than I
blame him, cause only has one head, of course it's a hard head.
CE: Well in their offices all day long. All day long, they just sit around.
CH: It's a credit based economy now a days.
CE: Yeah and therefore when it comes a land of money on the line, he demands to
lay it on the line, don't you be fooled by that. Lay it on the line. You see? I
did a tax job for a lady downtown. When we had an office down there, I
had--where we were a man-- accountant was coming in with a little late, so the
man asked me to send in his tax uh uh return, so I did it. Amazing that ordinary
women walking the street. She owns a home, paid for, got a car, paid for. A hat
and three bags, clothes on 25,000 dollars that she didn't need.
CE: Just an ordinary women. A --
CH: Turning back, just uh to turn it back to the past, one of the things that uh
Mr. [Max] Martin was saying was that he remembers as a kid working in his
father's realty, realty office. A black woman would come in, up from the South,
doing domestic work, making, what, six dollars a week or something? And she'd be
able to plunk down five, six hundred dollars for a down payment on a house or, I
guess some more, which always you know amazed him that people who made so little
money were able to none-the-less save up.
CE: That's right.
CH: Enough to buy their own home.
CE: Um-hm. See that's it. You see, the greatest economists in the country are
black women. Don't be fooled about that.
CE: Just as you said, make five, six dollars a week, something like that, bought
farms, homes, sent children to college and all that kind. Made a big sacrifice.
And uh that's so true, you see. Uh--
CH: Can I ask you one question before I forget it? This is something I wanted to
ask about. What, um, I'm interested in finding about the personality of Bishop
Wright. He seems to be a man who was involved in so many different things. You
know, reading about it. And so I have a good idea of many of his
accomplishments and activities, but haven't spoken to anybody who, who um, you
know remembered him personally, who can say "he was this sort of man." What sort
character, what sort of person was he?
CE: Well, he was a very fine person. He was always trying to do something to
elevate his people. Doing that-- he, he could feed his family well. Some of
them, ended up doctors, like that. And uh he was well-known throughout this
country. A very knowledgeable person, I'll tell you that. And uh, he went to the
highest position in his church, bishop, and served there well until he passed.
I don't think he ever retired. I think he was in office when he died.
CH: As uh, back during the early '20s, he seems to have had his hands in a
doz--dozen different pies. He was active politically, I guess, a supporter of
Hampton Moore for mayor. Now in the church, he was involved with different
literary societies, civil rights groups, all sorts of stuff. How, and I would
assume he was also one of the members of the board of directors of the bank. So
I would assume he was active with the bank also. How, how did he uh keep all
CE: Well, I'll tell you one thing. I--I happen to know a fellow quite, or
somewhat like that. And I asked him, I said, "How in the world you be tottering
so many things?" He said, "Well, I do a catalogue. I'm in here the day or the
night. Here then. Then one night I have for my family, the night there." And
that's the way some people can do so many things. They don't try to do it all at
one time, but, a day of this, tomorrow this, the next day with my family, and on
and on. And people watching him said, I don't see how that guy can be tottering
so many things. What goes on in one man was a mystery to me, and still is dead
past, he is connected to 27 organizations and I and nobody else could ever understand.
CH: Who was that?
CE: [Laughter] Man by the name of Harold L. Pilgrim he was at so many things,
and he was active too, he wasn't just had his name there, he was active. And, he
ended up worried, and ended up a real old man. But he couldn't, and so that's
where ambition run I guess, he had everything cataloged.
CE: Some people can't do that. They get involved and things almost get lost. [laughter].
CH: Yep. Get too many responsibilities.
[END OF INTERVIEW]