On Oct. 25 the White House held its annual Freedman’s Bank Forum. While the event, now in its third year, is supposed to celebrate the legacy of the Freedman’s Bank while promoting racial equity in the U.S., many people on Twitter/X were taken about by the scope of this year’s forum. The forum, attended by Vice President Kamala Harris and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, promoted programs targeting diversity and people of color. Freeman’s Bank was solely for African Americans, not all people of color.
The annual Freedman’s Bank Forum, hosted by the U.S. Department of Treasury, has aim to offer an occasion to reflect on the administration’s efforts to address economic disparities for Black communities.
The Freedman’s Savings and Trust Company, chartered by Congress in 1865, was intended to provide newly emancipated Black Americans with a secure place for their savings, encouraging financial security and the accumulation of family wealth in the post-Civil War era. This historical institution, led by Frederick Douglass, played a pivotal role in supporting Black property owners. However, it ultimately faced significant challenges and eventually closed, leaving many depositors with substantial losses.
The modern-day efforts to address economic disparities should not lose sight of the unique impact the Freedman’s Bank had on the American Freedmen community.
The honoring the efforts of the Freeman’s Bank didn’t seem to be front and center at the forum, some critics complained. That the concerns of Black Americans were pushed aside for the sake of inclusion of all people of color.
During the event, Yellen stressed diversity in her speech.
“All of us here know that the U.S. economy has not historically worked well for Black, Latino, Native, and many Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. And we also share a forward-looking vision: of an economy that unlocks the economic potential of people, communities, and businesses that have been left behind. We share this vision because it is fair, and also because it is good economics, crucial to our country’s economic strength and resilience,” she said.
She continued, “Over the past two and a half years, this vision has led us to help drive the most equitable recovery on record. Now, the same conviction underlies our work to build the most inclusive economy we can for the long term.”
She went through some of the efforts of the White House, which again focused on inclusion.
“From the start, and especially through the American Rescue Plan, the Biden-Harris Administration and Treasury Department focused on the needs of the most vulnerable Americans. This included people of color, female-headed households, low-income families, and rural communities,” she said. “We understood that effectively delivering services to these populations meant that we could not rely on a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we prioritized the use of community-informed approaches, partnerships with trusted state and local partners, and data-driven program design. And through these efforts, we helped drive a historically equitable recovery.”
There were some programs that she noted that did benefit Black Americans.
“Through the Emergency Capital Investment Program, we’ve invested more than $8.5 billion in community financial institutions, including $1.4 billion in Black-owned and Black-majority shareholder depository institutions,” she pointed out. “We are just receiving the first round of reporting. It shows that in about six months of lending in the second half of 2022, one-third of total originations were ‘deep impact’ loans made to the hardest-to-serve borrowers. And this is just the start. Over the next decade, we expect that ECIP will result in nearly $80 billion in increased lending in Black communities and nearly $58 billion in Latino communities.”
Following the forum, the NAASD (National Assembly of American Slavery Descendants) called the event “tone deaf.” The organization pointed to statements made by Chris Gorman of Key Bank, who suggested that “businesses started around WWII whose owners are thinking about retiring could transition to diverse groups of new owners.”
But as NAASD pointed out in a press release, Black Americans were “largely left out of GI benefits after WWII and this suggestion feels like a wealth transfer will go to owners that obtained wealth through discriminatory racial lending practices by subsidizing a diverse group of new owners that will exclude American Freedmen.”
NAASD instead called on the U.S. Department of Treasury to “set aside a minimum of $100,000,000.00 Million Dollars for Small Business Loans, home loans, and banking and tax literacy specifically for American Freedmen, Descendants of Persons Enslaved in the United States.”
NAASD wasn’t the only one to call out the forum.
“This Freedman’s Bank Forum 2023 has nothing to do with American descendants of slavery or lineage and is all about BIPOC, underrepresented minorities, and marginalized communities etc… One speaker even said “unleash the power of our immigrant communities,” Non-Human Media tweeted.
Yvette Carnell of ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery) agreed. She simply tweeted, “The co-opt & forced teaming continues.”
Then she added, “Imagine being proud of your inconsequential attendance at a Freedman Bank event where they centered BIPOC, immigrants & POC.”
Mark Stevenson also noted the lack of Freedmen. He tweeted, “There is not one single Freedmen on this stage talking about everything except us.”
WhyTheyDoMeLikeThat tweeted, “Freedman’s Bank Forum is talking about funding communities (specifically New York) but the only people they mentioned were Venezuelans…WHAT?!?!? Have the nerve to call this Freedmen’s Bank while only proposing investment in New Americans”.
Vice President Kamala Harris (Photo: YouTube screenshot, White House, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLrW2i-JNIA)