The Dunbar National Bank (1928)

The Dunbar National Bank (1928)

The establishment of the Dunbar National Bank in New York City, may be simply another bank; but it might prove to be an epoch making event for the darker races of the world. Here is a bank with over a million dollars of capital and surplus, with a colored and white directorate and a colored and white personnel. Even though white business men and capital predominate in numbers and authority, yet the possibilities of such an organization are tremendous.

In the present organization of the world in politics and industry the line between capital and labor coincides roughly to the line between the white and darker races. Whatever salvation the darker races seek under present conditions must be attained through their admission to the ranks of capitalists.

Failing this, they must fight capital and modern industry and their fight must be primarily racial and not based on the intrinsic merits or demerits of capitalistic industry.

Thus two questions face Negroes and Chinese and Indians.

First, is capitalism, as at present organized, the best director of work and income? Second, can the darker peoples secure voice and influence in the governing councils of modern organized capital? These are separate questions, but they tend to be one today, because organized capital today is almost exclusively in white control. The control of capital and credit enables the white people of the world to rule the world for their own benefit and to ignore whenever they so wish, the best interests of the colored peoples.

The leaders of colored thought, therefore, are faced by this problem: is the whole capitalistic system wrong or is the color problem merely the problem of securing for the darker people proper representation in the centers of capitalistic control? This question has been variously answered.

Booker T. Washington in the United States, most of the Negro leaders of West Africa, and some of the leaders of India, have seen salvation in a chance to share the capitalistic control of industry with white Europe and America. Others, including the Editor of The Crisis, believe that industrial reform must be far more radical than this.

But no matter what differences of opinion arise on this point, so long as organized capital excludes Negroes and other darker folk from its counsels and official positions, just so long will this people be forced toward radical industrial reform.

It is useless to reply that the capitalistic system is always open to individual merit. That is not true so far as white boys are concerned, and it is a fiat lie in the case of black boys. No black boy today, no matter what his education or ability, has any chance of admission and promotion in a white bank, insurance company, corporation or manufacturing concern. And no bank organized by black folk has a ghost of a chance to grow to real power in a financial world dominated by white banks and white captains of industry. Indeed, it has become almost axiomatic in England and America to put no real financial or industrial power in the hands of black folk.

Repeated attempts have been made to break over this industrial dead line: on the Gold Coast in West Africa in connection with the cocoa trade; in the establishment of some fifty small Negro banks in the United States; in various co-operative movements in Asia and Africa;—none of these movements have had any real and conspicuous success. Each one has found itself eventually in the masterful grasp of the great white capitalistic monopoly.

It is not too much to say that the Dunbar National Bank offers the greatest opportunity of modern days for something different. One cannot think that Mr. John Rockefeller, Jr., and his associates have gone into this enterprise merely for profit. They must have a vision. How wide is that vision? It may, of course, be narrow and conventional: the training of colored bank officials, the extension of credit to promising small colored enterprises. This would be of value. Eventually, it would lead to better banking among Negroes and more adventure in business. But ultimately, it would do little more than to emphasize the division among colored people into rich and poor, exploiter and exploited, landlord and tenant, employer and employee.

Beyond this there should be, and we sincerely trust there is, a wider and broader dream. This dream would be to break up the controlling caste in organized capitalistic industry; to say to the world that the use of capital is one of the greatest of modern inventions and it must no longer be monopolized by white people. We are going to train colored people in its use and proper control, and through these trained men, we are going to see how far it is possible in the United States, in the West Indies, and in Africa, to put colored men in control of capital and credit, and to let them develop it, not simply for the profit of white people, but for the advancement of darker peoples.

And this is no idle dream. A proper use of capital and credit in the cocoa raising regions of the Gold Coast of Africa would do more to emancipate black West Africa and educate and uplift Negroes, than any other single movement. The West Indies, by far the most beautiful part of the new world, are today prostrate and enslaved under the heels of absentee white capitalists and landlords. They could be redeemed if the power of capital and credit was put into the hands of trained colored men who believe or could be led to believe in the possibilities of Negro blood. American imperialism in Haiti and Central America, instead of being carried out by “Nigger”-hating Louisianians, could be put in the hands of black Americans who believe in Haitian freedom and independence.

The seemingly insoluble problems of South Africa and of East Africa could be mitigated in the same way. While in the United States the only thing that is going to save organized labor and bring true industrial democracy, is the abolition of the color line in capital and credit.

We shall look forward then with interest to the development of this bank. If it adds simply one more bank in Harlem to the banks of New York, we shall be profoundly disappointed, no matter how large its capital and how great its dividends. If it takes a real step toward an industrial democracy which includes the darker races, we shall hail it as one of the great steps of the 20th Century.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1928. “The Dunbar National Bank.” The Crisis. 35(11):382.