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Solvent Savings Bank and Trust

This important African American business institution in Memphis was founded in 1906 by Robert R. Church Sr., who had become the wealthiest African American in Tennessee through real estate and other interests. The bank was located on Beale Street across from Church Park and Auditorium. Originally stock could be purchased for ten dollars a share, and the minimum deposit was one dollar. By 1921 the bank boasted that it was the largest bank in the world owned and operated by blacks, with resources over one million dollars.

Church and his son Robert R. Church Jr. served as successive presidents; other early officers included Bert Roddy as cashier, as well as undertaker T. H. Hayes, J. W. Sanford, and attorney J. T. Settle. Directors included the Reverend Thomas O. Fuller of Howe Institute and First Baptist Church, Lauderdale; Bishop N. C. Cleaves of the CME Church; Dr. R. G. Martin, owner of the Memphis Red Sox; and other leaders of the black community. When the neighboring Beale Street Baptist Church faced foreclosure in 1908, the Solvent paid the notes and saved the church.

After the failure of several borrowers in the early 1920s, the bank merged with the Fraternal Savings Bank and Trust in 1927, but its position was perilous. Robert R. Church Jr., who had resigned from active connection with the bank in 1912, deposited fifty thousand dollars to stem the panic. State bank examiners found a shortage of at least five hundred thousand dollars in 1928, and bank president Alfred F. Ward was jailed. Black reaction ranged from shock to scorn. The failure of the Solvent Savings Bank predated by a year the crash of 1929, which shocked the entire financial system of the United States.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » February 28, 2011