E.C.Brown and Andrew Stevens, Jr
E.C. Brown and Andrew Stevens, Jr. were some of Philadelphia’s most successful African-American businessmen. Together “Brown and Stevens enterprises have inspired the confidence of the whole race,” wrote the Philadelphia Tribune on June 25, 1921.
After moving to Virginia, Brown, born in Philadelphia, became involved in real estate and banking. First, Brown opened the Crown Savings Bank in Newport News, and in 1909 opened the Brown Savings Bank in Norfolk.
Andrew Stevens, Jr., was the son of the founder of the Citizens Republican Club, Andrew Stevens. Stevens, Jr. was a member of the upper class of Old Philadelphian society and served on the Philadelphia City Council from 1893-1899, elected when he was just 27.
Eager to continue his real estate and banking businesses, Brown arrived in Philadelphia, in 1913. It was less than a year later that he teamed up with Stevens, Jr. to start a business to provide housing to the many southern migrants arriving in the city as part of the First Great Migration. Using their political and social connections, the partners received a charter for a private bank and in 1916 opened Brown and Stevens Bank. Brown ran the operations of the bank, while Stevens, Jr. served as its public face. The bank became a symbol of the new entrepreneurial spirit of African-American Philadelphia.
Riding on the success of Brown and Stevens Bank, the two men attempted to spread their influence beyond the city limits. In May 1918, the board of Payton Apartment Corporation in New York City elected Brown as president and Stevens as vice president and they began work providing housing to African Americans in Harlem. In 1918, the Senate Republican Committee appointed Stevens as its only Black member. In July 1918, the two formed the Dunbar Amusement Company, with their sights set on building a new theater in Philadelphia for African Americans.
In 1920, Stevens was elected to the state legislature in Harrisburg, PA.
The Wrights and Citizens and Southern Bank
Established by Major Wright and his son R. R. Wright, Jr., Citizens and Southern Bank, founded in 1920, grew from a community bank catering to the Black community, to one of the most influential and important African-American bank in Philadelphia. Citizens and Southern Bank was one of only eight Black owned banks in America to survive the 1929 banking collapse and qualify for membership into the newly established Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 1934.
Richard Robert Wright, Sr. (1853-1947) was born in Georgia to parents who were slaves. After the Civil War, Wright Sr. attended Atlanta University, a school formed to educate freed African Americans after the Civil War. In 1879, Wright opened Ware High School in Atlanta, the first public high school in Georgia permitting African-American student enrollment. Later, Wright, Sr. became the President of Georgia State College and one of the South’s most well-respected Black educators.
Richard Robert (R.R.) Wright, Jr. (1878-1967) was in the first graduating class from Ware High School. He went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in divinity from the University of Chicago. He moved to Philadelphia to pursue doctoral education at the University of Pennsylvania, receiving his PhD in 1911. In 1907, Wright, Jr. took a part-time job with the Armstrong Association, opening his eyes to the inner workings of African-American life in Philadelphia. After gaining initial business experience as a manager of the AME Book of Concern, Wright, Jr. entered the real estate business, owning upwards of 50 houses in Philadelphia. Inspired by his work with the Armstrong Associations, he rented these to incoming southerners until they could afford their own homes.
Wright, Jr. also forayed into Philadelphia politics, supporting Republican J. Hampton Moore in his 1920 mayoral campaign and later grew close to Moore through connections to the Colored Protective Association, and later the United Colored Republican Campaign, which he chaired. Wright, Jr. helped Moore gain support from Black voters, including many southern newcomers. After Moore's election, Wright, Jr. was a leader in the mayor's Black Kitchen Cabinet, where he joined the crusade to rid Philadelphia’s streets of vice. In April 1921, Wright, Jr. began service as the Assistant Director and Organizer of Social Work within the Welfare Department of the City of Philadelphia. Charlie Hall, a white politician, soon abolished the position over the naming of a playground, leading to Wright, Jr’s exit from politics.
While researching for his dissertation, “The Negro in Pennsylvania, a Study in Social and Economic History,” Wright, Jr. realized the glaring need for a community bank. He was also a firm believer in Black homeownership, and wished to start a bank to provide mortgages for aspiring Black homeowners, so he called his father in Georgia. “I don’t think my father wanted to run a bank because he was a minister. And, but he saw a need for this,” recalled Ruth Wright Hayre in a 1984 interview. Their branch of the Citizens and Southern Bank was opened at 1849 South Street, with Major Wright as President and R.R. Wright, Jr. as Secretary and Treasurer. The bank appealed to churchgoers and small depositors. Wright, Sr. saw the bank as an opportunity to educate the community, especially new southerners, on the importance of thrift and savings, and to protect them from shady businessmen.
Due to the bank's success, the National Negro Bankers Association elected Wright, Sr. President in 1924, a role he served for seven years. He presented his campaign to launch a revival of the Negro Business League, which he viewed as lacking in its promotion of Black business, at a meeting of the Citizens Republican Club.