Leimert Park resident Natalie Mallard has fond childhood memories of her great-uncle. She remembers seeing him dress in a tuxedo before attending fancy dinners and meetings. She remembers seeing him travel all over the country, venturing from Sacramento to Washington DC. But as a child, Mallard did not yet realize the full extent of the impacts of his great-uncle Onie B. Granville.
Granville is the man behind the first black-owned bank on the West Coast.
“I had no idea what kind of family I was in and what was coming together for millions of people in Los Angeles and across California,” Mallard said.
But today, Mallard, one of Granville’s last living relatives, shares his legacy in every way possible.
“I want this story out and I never want it to be forgotten,” Mallard said.
Granville was born in Navarro County, Texas on June 28, 1916. After high school, he received his bachelor’s degree in 1942 from Tillotson College in Austin, which is now known as Huston-Tillotson University. Granville later moved to Los Angeles and attended USC, where he did graduate work in real estate appraisal, banking, and finance.
As a prominent broker and chairman of the African American Consolidated Realty Board in the 1960s, Granville saw firsthand how housing crises and redlining affected the African American community. He often struggled to secure loans for his black clients.
Black Americans have faced many generational financial burdens over the decades — banks were known to deny black residents mortgages and small business loans. They often rated homes owned by Black Americans, on average, less than homes owned by white Americans.
Seeing the need and the injustice that caused it, Granville set to work and opened the first black owned and operated bank west of Kansas City. Granville’s Bank of Finance obtained a state charter and opened on November 16, 1964 at 2651 South Western Avenue in Los Angeles. Second, the bank was one of the only providers of loans and checking accounts to black business owners.
The Finance Bank helped people of color obtain these loans, provided black businesses with letters of credit, and withheld tax returns. It also offered a range of services such as checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, and home, auto, construction, and personal loans.
Mallard said Granville’s bank had a positive impact on the community.
“So many people have been able to have homes [and] to move west to Western Avenue and not lose their home to others and even pave the way for them as a bank,” she said.
Although the Bank of Finance was sold to the Korean American banking company Wilshire Bank in 1984, during the 20 years of its existence it served the needs of the black community in Los Angeles.
Mallard said many members of the community have spoken to him and his family about how Granville has helped them when no other bank would.
Four years after establishing the Bank of Finance, Granville then moved briefly to Portland, Oregon, where he established another bank, the Freedom Bank of Finance. But his initiative did not stop there.
Granville also became co-founder and vice-president of West Adams Community Hospital in 1970. Shortly thereafter, he founded the Southern California Minority Capital Corporation (SCMCC), a small public investment firm for people of color with an initial capitalization of $1 million. This program was in conjunction with USC’s Department of Business Administration.
Granville discusses the SCMCC in an article in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, originally published October 20, 1971.
“We will work with the minority entrepreneur,” Granville said in the article, “to determine if they could be successful or grow or if they could add a new operation to their existing business.”
In 2021, white families had almost eight times the wealth of black families, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank. Today there are 19 black-owned banks in the United States
Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, clinical associate professor of social work at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, explained what it was like for black business owners to stay afloat during the 1960s.
“What we do know is that black businesses have encountered many of the walls that have been put up within the banking industry to oppress black-owned businesses,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald added that times were pretty tough for black business owners, as any attempt to increase their economic wealth seemed to be destroyed by banking practices that date back even to the days of slavery.
“Black people trying to bank ran into this oppressive wall that’s been put up,” Fitzgerald said, “a wall that’s been in place since slavery.”
“So when you have an industry that’s rooted in oppression, rooted in the subjugation of individuals, and built on the backs of slaves,” Fitzgerald said, “we can’t dissociate that from what we see today. today.”
Granville’s vision for a fair bank predates the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the sale, rental, financing or advertising of housing. Although it was passed in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act, black Americans are still more consistently denied bank loans than white Americans. Being denied mortgages and loans can make it all the more difficult to accumulate wealth.
“We think about representation, having these Black-owned businesses is symbolic,” Fitzgerald said. “These are signs of hope. These are signs of aspiration. These are signs of a promise of a possible future for those watching.
He added that Granville was not only a role model for those around him, but also an institutional guide for other black entrepreneurs to come.
Granville died at age 82 in Los Angeles on September 21, 1998. To keep her memory alive, Mallard donated her uncle’s archive to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.
Bill Pretzer, senior curator of history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, helped Mallard preserve artifacts from his great-uncle’s life by acquiring them and adding them to the inventory collection. online from the museum.
Pretzer said Granville’s groundbreaking efforts provide new opportunities for people of color in the United States.
“This is a very good example of the impact of financial institutions on African Americans,” he said. “Both just as owners and consumers, but also as entrepreneurs.”
Pretzer also said entrepreneurship has a long tradition in African-American communities. Yet business history in the United States has not sufficiently documented these untold stories of black history, which he said the museum is working to change.
“Artifacts and oral history, such as Natalie Mallard’s memories of her great-uncle, are so important to making African American history and integrating it into this existing narrative of business life in Los Angeles” , he said, “which was written time and again but Onie was never a part of it, despite its importance.
Mallard also understands this importance, as she said she will continue to share her uncle’s story and carry on his legacy.
If Granville was still alive today, Mallard said she would share her gratitude to her late great-uncle.
“I’m so grateful to be your great-niece and I want this story to come out,” she said. “And I never want him to be forgotten.”