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Sun, 09.28.1890

Alabama Penny Savings Bank Opens

Ala. Penny Savings lobby

*This date in 1890 celebrates the founding of Alabama Penny Savings Bank. It was Alabama’s first bank for Blacks one of the first for Blacks in America.

Founded by William Pettiford, in 1902, the deposits were $78,124.21; by 1911, they had reached $421,596.51. Much of the bank's success resulted from his and the directors' emphasis on homeownership. Records show that the Penny Bank was the leading mortgager to persons buying homes in Smithfield, the most prominent Black community in Birmingham. In addition, during the bank's first decade, Pettiford and other officials engineered many real estate transactions that proved highly lucrative for the bank.

In 1913 the Penny Bank constructed its own building on Eighteenth Street in Birmingham's thriving business district. The five-story building housed other black businesses on its upper floors. Of its 64 rooms, businesses occupied all of them except one, paying a total of $8,000 in rent to the Penny Savings Bank.

The building represented a tangible demonstration of the director's philosophy of self-help and economic solidarity: Blacks cooperating to assist other Blacks. Windham Construction, a Black-owned company, built it; the style of the building suggested the architectural touch of Wallace A Rayfield; without this strong bank, most homes for Birmingham’s earliest Blacks never would have been built; the building also housed the city's earliest Black doctors and attorneys.

In 1915 the bank closed and the Grand Lodge Knights of Pythias, a Black fraternal organization, bought the building; it has been known as the Pythian Building since then; on the National Register of Historic Places; 310 18th Street North, Birmingham.

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