One of the largest black-owned businesses in the state, Tri-State Bank was founded in 1946 by Dr. J. E. Walker (founder of Universal Life Insurance) and his son A. Maceo Walker. The original headquarters site at the corner of Beale Street and Fourth Avenue was also the site of Robert Church’s Solvent Savings Bank and Trust, the first black-owned bank in Memphis. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
With initial assets of only $240,000, the bank has increased in size and services to the extent that current assets are closer to the $100 million mark. From one small building and five employees, the bank has grown to five branches and some seventy employees. One critical contributor to the success of the institution was Jesse H. Turner Sr. A new CPA and ex-U.S. Army officer, Turner was hired in 1949 to bring the bank’s books under control. By the time he died in 1989, Turner was president of the bank and one of the first post-Reconstruction African Americans to hold local legislative office in Memphis and Shelby County. Other presidents have included both Walkers and Jesse H. Turner Jr.
Tri-State Bank, for all its importance as a black financial institution, also played an important role in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. According to Jesse Turner Jr., many local sit-ins were planned in the bank’s boardroom, and bank officials often kept the vault open at night to provide bail money for protesters.