Chaos at the Bank of Lawndale

by  Assistant Editor

On a cold day in early March, more than one hundred clergymen and protestors descended on the Community Bank of Lawndale, located at 1111 South Homan Avenue, on Chicago’s South West Side. The sale of the bank – which was started, operated and owned by Blacks for years – sparked the controversy.

Outrageous statements were made during the protest from bank supporters, employees and protestors. This reporter could only record what happened and what was said.

The clergymen and protestors were greeted not with a welcome wagon or hearty handshake, but by large blue “Do Not Cross” police barricade that stood in front of the bank. Security guards were stationed out front, some wearing the latest style in bulletproof vests. Alongside them was a line of police and police squad cars and trucks.

Those present at the protest were highly upset about the sale of the bank to International Bank of Chicago, which is owned by Asian-Americans. They deemed the sale as illegal. The clergymen and protestors came looking for answers. The protestors timed their visit to the bank with a prearranged meeting set up by Jackie Wang, who is on the board of directors for the Lawndale Bank. When the protestors arrived, however, there was a power outage, which many suspected was also prearranged to keep the protestors at bay.

Many of the protestors explained that they found it unacceptable when it comes to their community bank being sold. “The bank was sold to International Bank of Chicago for $721,000 when it was deemed as a $5.5 million entity,” a spokesman for Voices of the Ex-Offenders, or VOTE, said.

“We are here today to have a meeting with the new owners of Lawndale Bank,” said Reverend M.G. Hunter, a community leader in Lawndale.

A Chicago Sun-Times reporter asked Hunter why he didn’t get Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. to represent their cause.

“Jesse doesn’t represent Black people. He only represents his family and his friends. Those are the only ones that he has made millionaires. [He doesn’t represent] the masses of the people,” Hunter said. “We need someone who will be here when the camera goes off, and not just when the cameras are on.”

Outside, a lawyer for the Lawndale bank by the name of Ben Shapiro told me that the bank was sold about four months ago to the International Bank of Chicago.

Another lawyer for the bank, Chris Welch, said “They bought this bank to represent the Lawndale community.” I asked him if the new owners would have a meeting with the clergymen today. Could the clergymen retrieve the bank? “This bank is not for sale,” Welch answered.

Hunter gave a speech after Welch and I talked. “We will go to Congress and tell Congress. We will not allow them to be in our community to handle our federal, state and local dollars,” Hunter thundered. “This is not racism; this is a culture interest. You are putting us in a predicament where we will have to bow down and ask other people for our own money.”

“We will not stand for that. This is wrong,” Hunter told the crowd.

Later, I asked questions in a private meeting inside the bank with the lawyers and the affiliated partners such as Dr. Charles Koen and the civil rights leader Reverend James Bevel.

“We are committed to serving the community of Lawndale,” Welch said. “Most of those ministers that are out there do not live in Lawndale. They live in the Austin area.”

“Only one person has a CD in this bank and that is Reverend Johnny Miller. The rest of them do not have money in this bank,” Welch continued.

Was this bank ever Black owned, I asked?

“It was Black ownership and Black management. The answer is yes, this bank was Black-owned and Black-run,” Shapiro said.

“When Blacks owned the bank, the bank failed,” Reverend James Bevel said. “Wasn’t there Black men here, didn’t the bank go down, because they didn’t have the experience to run a bank? They were good fellows but didn’t know how to run a bank!”

I asked Bevel if he thought that there are any Blacks who could run this bank.

“No, at this point, no,” Bevel said. “A lot of Blacks don’t know what it takes scientifically to run a business. That’s why I’m not involved in a lot of Negro stuff now.”

I asked Bevel, what is your role here in the bank?

“My role is the community, this is an opportunity that came up, it is like a gift for me to eliminate slums,” he said. Later, Hunter responded to Welch’s comments. “When it comes to me living in this community, I have lived here for over 26 years,” Hunter said.

VOTE spokesperson Paul McKinney brought up questions over a megaphone about the connection between the bank and what he described as “organized crime” figures that are now on the advisory board of this bank.

The clergymen and protestors are setting up another demonstration to be announced soon.

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