Citizens Trust Logo August 16, 1921, Citizens Trust Bank opened on

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Citizens Trust Bank


Citizens Trust Logo
August 16, 1921, Citizens Trust Bank opened on Auburn Avenue in Atlanta. Its founder, African American businessman Heman Perry, served as the first chairman of the board, and Henry C. Dugas was Citizens Trust's first president. An instance of discrimination inspired the creation of the bank: Perry attempted to be fitted for a pair of socks at a white-owned store and was refused. So that black businessmen could own and operate businesses independently of white-owned financial institutions, Perry and four other partners (collectively known as the "Fervent Five") formed Citizens Trust Bank.

The bank officially reorganized itself in 1927 with new articles of incorporation and bylaws. Clayton R. Yates was elected acting chairman of the board and Lorimer D. Milton was elected cashier-treasurer. A decade later, in 1938, Milton would become Citizens Trust's president and chief executive officer (CEO).

On March 5, 1933,

Citizens Trust Bank Founder
the day after being sworn into office, U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a "bank holiday," which for four days forced the closure of the nation's banks and halted all financial transactions in an attempt to allow the new administration time to develop a plan to address the current banking crisis. Because of its sound operation, Citizens Trust was one of the first banks to reopen. Shortly thereafter, Citizens Trust became the first African American–owned bank to become a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In 1948 Citizens Trust became the first African American–owned bank to join the Federal Reserve Bank.

In the 1950s Citizens Trust began investing in the development of housing subdivisions throughout

Old Citizens Trust Bank Building
southwest Atlanta, creating neighborhoods that would become some of the most affluent residential areas for African Americans in the country. After the development of the Hunter Road project using a special program of the Federal Housing Administration, the bank developed the Mozley Park subdivision, for which white banks would not provide mortgages. In addition Citizens Trust provided financing of the Morris Brown subdivision and the Bankhead and Hightower communities. The bank was also instrumental in providing financing for African Americans purchasing homes in white communities. During this time Citizens Trust opened its first branch office, the Westside Branch.

In the mid-1960s Milton and his management team recognized the need for a new headquarters and planned a new facility at 75 Piedmont Avenue. After completion of the building, Milton retired. He had been an original employee of Citizens Trust during the Perry years and had guided the bank through the Great Depression, World War II (1941-45), and racial segregation. Citizens Trust had gone from approximately $300,000 in total assets at the beginning of his tenure to more than $26 million at the time he retired. In 1971 Charles Reynolds, the bank's executive vice president, succeeded Milton as president, and I. Owen Funderburg, president and CEO of Gateway National Bank in St. Louis, Missouri, became CEO and president in 1975.

Under Funderburg's leadership Citizens Trust expanded its role in the National Bankers Association, the trade group for the nation's minority-owned commercial banks. By 1985 Citizens Trust had increased its size to $96 million and was named bank of the year by Black Enterprise magazine. The magazine article touted Funderburg's effective management style and the advances made by the bank during his administration. By 1990 the bank was solidly over $100 million in size and often challenged Industrial Bank of Washington in Washington, D.C., and Seaway National Bank in Chicago, Illinois, as the largest black-owned commercial bank in the country. Funderburg retired in 1992, after seventeen years with Citizens Trust.

In 1992 William L. Gibbs was named Citizens Trust's new president and CEO. Under Gibbs, Citizens Trust continued its expansion program by opening new in-store branch offices in Cub Foods grocery stores, beginning with one on Lawrenceville Highway in Atlanta. The bank's new motto was "Strength through Progress."

In July 1997 Gibbs

Young and Stokes
resigned from Citizens Trust, and the bank decided to explore a merger with First Southern Bank, through which First Southern president James E. Young would assume the presidency of the new bank. The merger was finalized on January 30, 1998, and Young took the helm of the expanded Citizens Trust in February. Citizens Trust ended the month with approximately $191 million in total assets.

In June 1998 Citizens Trust, which was considered the leading church lender relative to its capital base in metropolitan Atlanta, solicited the partnership of three other minority-owned banks and loaned the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church $5.5 million to finance the construction of a new sanctuary.

In the spring of 1999, Young announced that the common stock of Citizens Trust was available in the public market, and the bank's stock began trading publicly. Additionally, Citizens Trust became the first and only African American–owned bank in the nation to become part of the Small Business Administration's Preferred Lender Program.

On March 10, 2000,

Citizens Trust Bank
Citizens Trust assumed all the deposits and purchased most of the assets of Atlanta's Mutual Federal Savings Bank. Through the acquisition, Citizens Trust's assets increased by some $30 million to nearly $250 million. Just three years later, on February 28, 2003, Citizens Trust acquired Citizens Federal Savings Bank in Birmingham, Alabama. Through the acquisition of Citizens Federal, founded in 1957 by African American businessman A. G. Gaston, Citizens Trust increased its assets to nearly $400 million.

John Wesley Dobbs (1882-1961)

Often referred to as the unofficial mayor of Auburn Avenue, John Wesley Dobbs was one of several distinguished African American civic and political

John Wesley Dobbs
leaders who worked to achieve racial equality in segregated Atlanta during the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in Marietta in 1882 to Minnie and Will Dobbs, John Wesley Dobbs grew up in poverty on a farm near Kennesaw. Two years after his birth his mother and father separated. His mother moved to Savannah to work in the home of a white family there, leaving Dobbs and his sister in the care of his grandparents and various other relatives. Minnie saw her children regularly, though, and in 1891 they moved to Savannah to live with her.

In Savannah Dobbs attended school full time for the first time. His formal education nearly ended after fifth grade because of his family's financial difficulties, but a white woman intervened and offered Dobbs a job that would not interfere with his school attendance. While still in grammar school, Dobbs also shined shoes and delivered newspapers to supplement the family income.

In 1897, at the age of fifteen, Dobbs moved to Atlanta, where he continued his education at Atlanta Baptist College (later Morehouse College). His mother's ill health forced Dobbs to drop out of school and return to Savannah to care for her. He never earned a college degree. He continued his studies independently, however, and passed a civil service exam that in 1903 allowed him to become a railway mail clerk for the U.S. Post Office in Atlanta. (Dobbs in fact would never stop studying, reading voraciously during his spare time.) Dobbs held his position at the post office, a well-respected one within the black community, for thirty-two years.

In 1906 Dobbs married Irene Ophelia Thompson, with whom he had six daughters, all of whom went on to become graduates of Spelman College in Atlanta. Mattiwilda Dobbs, his fifth daughter, became an acclaimed opera singer. Dobbs worked to instill in his children a sense of self-worth and a

Mattiwilda Dobbs
desire to succeed. He forbade them to attend segregated events and constantly reminded them of their equality. Additionally, he traveled with his family extensively to broaden their range of experience.

In 1911 Dobbs was initiated into the Prince Hall Masons, a fraternal order that attracted socially conscious leaders within the black middle class. Dobbs was elected Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons of Georgia in 1932, thereby earning the nickname "the Grand." Through his leadership position with the Masons, he tried to instill in Atlanta's African American community those same values he worked to pass on to his children.

Dobbs fervently believed that African American suffrage was the key to racial advancement. He announced a goal of registering 10,000 black voters in Atlanta and preached the importance of voter registration in Masonic halls, in African American churches, and on street corners. Dobbs also founded the Atlanta Civic and Political League in 1936 and, with attorney A. T. Walden, cofounded the Atlanta Negro Voters League in 1946. Both of these leagues advocated voter registration and black political unity.

Due largely to Dobbs's efforts, African Americans achieved two significant political victories in the late 1940s. In the spring of 1948 Atlanta mayor William B. Hartsfield fulfilled a promise he had made to Dobbs by hiring eight African American police officers. Although they could patrol only black neighborhoods and could not arrest whites, the hiring was a significant challenge to segregation. The following year Hartsfield fulfilled another campaign promise by installing street lamps on Auburn Avenue, the center of Atlanta's black community. Both of these achievements served to solidify Dobbs's position as a leader. (Dobbs himself coined the term "Sweet Auburn," an expression of the area's thriving businesses and active social and civic life.)

During the 1950s Dobbs continued his work toward African American equality. He constantly pressed Hartsfield to fulfill other promises made to the black community. Dobbs's influence began to wane, though, as the decade ended and a younger generation of African American leaders emerged at the forefront of the civil rights struggle. By this time he was suffering from arthritis, often unable to get out of bed.

Dobbs's health declined, and on August 21, 1961, he suffered a stroke. He died nine days later, on August 30, 1961, the same day that Atlanta city schools were desegregated. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the speakers at Dobbs's funeral, and Thurgood Marshall, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and future Supreme Court justice, served as a pallbearer. Dobbs received a lasting tribute on January 10, 1994, when his grandson, Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, changed the name of Houston Street to John Wesley Dobbs Avenue.

Suggested Reading

Ronald H. Bayor, Race and the Shaping of Twentieth-Century Atlanta  (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).

Gary M. Pomerantz, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: The Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta (New York: Scribner, 1996).

Matthew Bailey, Georgia College and State University

Published 8/26/2005

Auburn Avenue (Sweet Auburn)


Sweet Auburn
less than two miles eastward from Peachtree Street, Auburn Avenue was the commercial, cultural, and spiritual center of African American life in Atlanta prior to the civil rights movement. "Sweet Auburn" boasted a concentration of black-owned businesses, entertainment venues, and churches that was unrivaled elsewhere in the South. Its bustling retail trade and wealthy business owners earned the street a national reputation for African American finance and entrepreneurial zeal. In 1956 Fortune magazine memorably described Auburn Avenue as "the richest Negro street in the world."

Sweet Auburn's Golden Era

Originally called Wheat Street, the road was renamed in 1893 at the request of white petitioners who believed Auburn Avenue had a more cosmopolitan sound. During the next two decades, as restrictive Jim Crow legislation was codified into law, the city's African American population became confined to the area between downtown and Atlanta University and to neighborhoods on the city's east side, known today as the Old Fourth Ward. It was during this period that Auburn Avenue first achieved prominence as a commercial corridor and became home to the city's emerging black middle class.


Atlanta Life Insurance
composed mostly of small businesses, Auburn Avenue was also home to what historian Gary Pomerantz describes as Atlanta's "three-legged stool of black finance." The first of these institutions was founded by Alonzo Herndon, a former slave who became the city's first black millionaire. After earning a modest fortune as the owner of a barbershop on Peachtree Street, Herndon founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company in 1905. Six years later an enterprising Texan named Heman Perry formed a second black insurance company, Standard Life. Citizens Trust Bank formed the third leg of the city's black financial stool, extending credit to black homeowners and entrepreneurs who were underserved by the city's white lending institutions. Because Auburn Avenue's financial institutions amounted to a consolidation of African American wealth unique for its time, black Atlantans referred to the street as "Sweet Auburn." Coined by John Wesley Dobbs, a civic leader and the neighborhood's unofficial "mayor," the name reflected the avenue's prominence as a national center of black commerce.


Royal Peacock
Auburn Avenue was not simply a place to do business. Black Atlantans worshipped at Auburn's many churches, including Ebenezer Baptist Church, where three generations of Martin Luther King Jr.'s family were pastors; dined at the legendary Ma Sutton's; and spent late nights listening to ragtime at the famous Top Hat Club (later the Royal Peacock). The National Association for the Advancement for Colored People (NAACP), the Odd Fellows, the Masons, and the National Urban League maintained offices on Auburn Avenue, which was also home to the nation's first successful black-owned daily newspaper, the Atlanta Daily World. Whether for work or play, Auburn Avenue was the center of African American life in Atlanta.

Civil Rights Era and Beyond


Martin Luther King Jr. Birthplace
Auburn's civic activism led to its undoing. As the NAACP and local voting-rights organizations, from their Sweet Auburn offices, lobbied state and local governments for an end to segregation, and as native son Martin Luther King Jr., who was born at 501 Auburn Avenue, led the crusade for civil rights before a national audience, the street began its steep decline. With the legal barriers to integration removed, many Auburn shopkeepers moved their businesses to other areas of the city, and residents began migrating to Atlanta's west side. At the same time the street was bisected by the construction of the downtown connector. Once vital and vibrant, the community's fabric began to tear as Sweet Auburn fell victim to disinvestment and neglect. "It turned into a decaying memorial to a bygone era," observes Gary Pomerantz, "a necessary though regrettable price for freedom."

Despite repeated attempts at renewal, Auburn Avenue remains a model of urban blight. A revitalization plan undertaken by Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson in the 1970s failed to stem the neighborhood's decline, and his successors have not made a sustained commitment to the neighborhood's welfare. Auburn's designation as a national historic landmark in 1976 and the construction of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in the 1980s encouraged hopes that the neighborhood might be revitalized, but those expectations have gone unfulfilled. While these sites are among the largest attractions in the city, few of the more than 600,000 annual visitors (as of 2005) have ventured farther down the block for dining or entertainment.


Sweet Auburn Festival
failures notwithstanding, residents and advocates have not given up on Sweet Auburn. In 1984 civil rights leader Hosea Williams founded the Sweet Auburn Heritage Festival, which offers entertainment, food, art, and children's activities along Auburn Avenue each year. As of 2006, a $45 million redevelopment plan to create thousands of square feet of retail space and hundreds of condominiums, spearheaded by the historic Big Bethel AME Church, suggests that the community is poised for renewal. Moreover, the area has been designated a "tax allocation district," meaning that potential developments would enjoy municipal financial support. While Sweet Auburn's future remains uncertain, its supporters believe that it is prepared to regain its former glory.

Suggested Reading

Clifford M. Kuhn, Harlon E. Joye, and E. Bernard West, Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990).

Carole Merritt, The Herndons: An Atlanta Family (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2002).

Gary M. Pomerantz, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: The Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta (New York: Scribner, 1996).

Edward A. Hatfield, New Georgia Encyclopedia

Published 6/2/2006


More financial institutions, professionals, educators, entertainers and politicians were on this one mile of street than any other African American street in the South. The street was "paved in gold" observed John Wesley Dobbs. Today the buildings on Auburn Avenue honor the determination and tenacity of Black Americans operating within the confines of extreme social and economic segregation between 1880 and 1965 to create a thriving community and six centers of higher education adjacent to this street.

Although economically governed by the restrictive Jim Crow Laws, from the 1920's through the 1940's Sweet Auburn Avenue was at the height of its social vigor and the present day buildings reflect this energy. After this golden era, the west side of Atlanta around the Atlanta University Center became a more fashionable area to locate an African American business or residence. Desegregration in the 1960's furthered an exodus of people and energy from the area, leaving the street somewhat depopulated as it is today.

Yet even as developer Hermon Perry triggered a housing boom for blacks on the west side, Auburn remained the spiritual center of black Atlanta. The three legged stool of black finance the Citizens Trust Bank (of which Dobbs was among the original directors), Mutual Federal Savings & Loan and Alonzo Herndon's Atlanta Life Insurance Company was located on Auburn. To walk the Avenue on any summer evening was to experience the vitality of black life in the city: the sounds of ragtime from the Top Hat, the smell of fried chicken from Ma Suttons and the constant hum of animated street chatter. It became the place for black dreamers. You knew you had arrived on the Avenue once you had your own pulpit or your own cornerstone. Henry Rucker, Alonzo Herndon and Benjamin J. Davis already had erected buildings on Auburn and soon Dobbs would have his.

Yet even as developer Hermon Perry triggered a housing boom for blacks on the west side, Auburn remained the spiritual center of black Atlanta. The three legged stool of black finance the Citizens Trust Bank (of which Dobbs was among the original directors), Mutual Federal Savings & Loan and Alonzo Herndon's Atlanta Life Insurance Company was located on Auburn. To walk the Avenue on any summer evening was to experience the vitality of black life in the city: the sounds of ragtime from the Top Hat, the smell of fried chicken from Ma Suttons and the constant hum of animated street chatter. It became the place for black dreamers. You knew you had arrived on the Avenue once you had your own pulpit or your own cornerstone. Henry Rucker, Alonzo Herndon and Benjamin J. Davis already had erected buildings on Auburn and soon Dobbs would have his.


Atlanta Daily World

Recorded dates:
1928- August 5. William Alexander Scott II, age 26, founded The Atlanta Daily World. It was the first successful African American daily newspaper in the United States.
When The Daily World was founded there was only one other black paper in the Atlanta area, The Atlanta Independent, which shut down in 1933, consequently leaving The Daily World as the lone voice for the city's growing black community. Scott launched the paper mainly as a business venture, not a political venture. As a result, it was able to secure local and national advertisements from both black and white businesses, including Coca-Cola, Sears, Roebuck & Company, and Rich's, the largest department store in Atlanta. White businesses did not feel unduly threatened by the paper's editorial position, as they might have with a black paper such as The Chicago Defender or The Negro World, which were "militant" in their attacks against southern white racism.
1930- May. semi-weekly.
1931- April. tri-weekly
1931- March 13. Became daily; As a daily paper, it was set apart from other black newspapers, the majority of which were published as weeklies. Its new format allowed for more timely news coverage.
1934- February 4. Scott was shot and killed while walking from his garage. No one was ever convicted of his murder. His brother, Cornelius Adolphus Scott, subsequently became the head of The Daily World. Under his leadership, the newspaper adopted a more conservative, Republican position, reflecting C.A. Scott's political views.
1936- Feb. 12. John Wesley Dobbs speaks for 2 hours at Big Bethal to awaken the political conscience of Atlanta's 90,000 blacks. He proposes that night to organize the Atlanta Civic and Political League to register 10,000 voters. Twenty-eight year old C.A. Scott at The Daily World backed him up the next day in his newspaper.
1944- February 8. Reporter Harry S. Alpin became the first person of African American descent to cover the White House
1954-1965- During the Civil Rights era The Daily World was criticized for not supporting sit-ins staged at several white-owned restaurants in downtown Atlanta. Scott reasoned that African Americans would more effectively improve their situation by working towards ending segregation in education, obtaining political and voting influence, and improving their economic situations rather than engaging in this form of protest.
1997- Scott retired from The Atlanta Daily World and on Aug. 14 his great niece, Alexis Scott Reeves, was named publisher.

Credit for content :


Atlanta Life Insurance Co.
142-148 Auburn Avenue
Sweet Auburn Historic District
Atlanta, Georgia

1. Atlanta Life Insurance Company Main Building (the building to the right in elevation at top).
Original Owner: Alonzo Herndon
Built: pre-1892
Architectural style: Neo-classical façade added in 1927.
Contractor: A.H. Aiken
Original Use: Originally a residence, this structure housed the Atlanta Life Insurance Company from 1920-1980.
Re-adaptive Use: Waiting for renovation.

2. Atlanta Life Insurance Company Annex (the building to the left in elevation at top).
Original owner/builder: Alonzo Herndon
Built: 1936
Architectural style: Neo-classical
Original Use: This structure, along with the main building, housed the Atlanta Life Insurance Company from 1936-1980. In 1980 the company moved to the adjacent modern building in photo at left.
Re-adaptive Use: Waiting for renovation.

In 1905, after extrordinary success in barber shops and real estate, Alonzo Herndon was approached by two prominent black church pastors. One of them, Rev. Peter Bryant of Wheat Street Baptist Church, had recently formed the Atlanta Benevolent & Protective Association, and was in dire need of capital. Herndon agreed to buy the small benevolent association for $140 and, with the acquisition and reorganization of two other companies in September of that year, formed the Atlanta Mutual Insurance Association, later to be the Atlanta Life Insurance Company

Through one acquisition and merger after another, Atlanta Life grew. The clients of small, failing companies, who were in jeopardy of losing their policies, were given reprieves when taken over by Atlanta Life. Confidence in the company and in Herndon's ability and judgment grew. An editor of the Atlanta Independent newspaper, wrote, "When people buy a policy in Atlanta Life they are buying Alonzo Herndon."

In 1920, the company moved to 148 Auburn Avenue and in 1980 moved from these aging facilities to a new corporate structure next door.

Upon Mr. Herndon's death in 1927, his son, Norris B. Herndon, became president, leading the company to unprecedented growth following the Depression. The tradition of business excellence and community service continued with Jesse Hill, Jr. (Butler Street was renamed after him in 2002), who succeeded to the presidency in 1973 and was sustained by Don Royster, Sr., who in 1992 became the company's fourth president. Charles Cornelius, becoming the fifth president and chief executive officer in June 1996, carries on the company's proud legacy.

Credit for several direct quotes within the above information (also the present day website of Atlanta Life Insurance Co.): .

Rucker Building (dem.)
158-160 Auburn Avenue
Sweet Auburn Historic District
Atlanta, Georgia

Original Owner: Henry Rucker
Built: 1904
Cost: $5,000.00
Architectural Style:
Original Use: This building served as the first black owned office space for African Americans on Auburn Avenue.
Readaptive Use: The building had to be demolished in September of 2001 when a vehicle lost control and ran into the front support column causing the building to collapse. The building had been weakened by water entry.

Recorded dates:
1852- Nov 14. Henry Rucker is born a slave in Wilkins County, GA.

1866- Arrived in Atlanta with family and attended the first school for freedmen held in the Tabernacle Church Building on Armstrong Street (now Jenkins Street).

1880- Henry Rucker serves as a delegate from Georgia to the Republican National Convention in Chicago.

1887- Rucker purchases a home on Piedmont Avenue.

1897- Rucker is named by President William McKinley as collector of internal revenue, the only African American to ever hold this position.

1904- Rucker builds a 3-story office building on the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Auburn Ave as the first office building for African American's and owned by African Americans in Atlanta. It is constructed of red brick with retail space on the 1st floor and professional office space on the 2nd and 3rd floor.

2001- After the week-end proceeding 9/11 the building was demolished. There is an empty lot at the buildings original location at this time.

Financial Institution Formation
Sweet Auburn Avenue
1891- The Atlanta Loan and Trust Company is organized by Wesley C. Redding and other African Americans. It is located at the corner of Bell and Auburn Street.

1897- The Union Mutual Insurance Company sets up headquarters in Atlanta, becoming the first chartered insurance association operated by African-Americans in the state of Georgia.

1904- Rev. Peter James Bryant organizes the Atlanta Benevolent and Protective Association, a small insurance society for members of the Wheat Street Baptist Church and the community to provide relief in sickness and a decent burial at death. The assessment fee ranged from 5.00 to .25 . Sick benefits ranged from 1.00 to 5.00 for a limited # of weeks, and death benefits ranged from 10.00 to 50.00. The office was originally located on Edgewood Avenue and later moved to the Rucker Building.

1905- The Atlanta Mutual Insurance Company is formed by Alonzo Franklin Herndon, by purchasing, at their request, the Wheat Street Baptist Church's Atlanta Benevolent and Protective Association for 140.00. Herndon reorganizes the assets with two additional associations. The office moves to 202 Auburn Ave.

1910- The Atlanta State Savings Bank is organized by African-Americans and located on Auburn Ave.

1913- The Atlanta State Savings Bank becomes the first chartered African-American banking institution in Georgia. Some of its depositors include Standard Life, Atlanta Mutual, North Carolina, and Pilgrim Health and Life Insurance companies. The officer and board of directors include the "movers and shakers" of Atlanta: David T. Howard, A.F. Herndon, Dr. Henry R. Butler and Bishop Joseph S. Flipper. J.O. Ross is president.

1913- Herman Perry, an agent with Massachusetts Mutual Insurance Company, starts the Standard life Insurance Company, the first legal reserve insurance company in the world operated by an African-American.

1916- Atlanta Life Insurance Company is incorporated

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