The Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers was the first bank owned by African Americans in the United States. Although the True Reformers bank was the first black-owned bank chartered in the United States, the Capitol Savings Bank of Washington, D.C., was the first to actually open on October 17, 1888.
The bank was founded by Reverend William Washington Browne in 1888. Reverend Browne was a former Georgia slave and had escaped and joined the Union Army in the North. After the Civil War, he opened the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers. He attempted to open a local branch in Charlotte County, Virginia, but he was met with racial tensions after a lynching that took place in 1887. Browne decided to open a bank where its finances would not be monitored by whites.
The Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers Bank opened a year after its founding, initially operating out of Browne’s home at 105 West Jackson Street in Richmond, Virginia. The first day’s deposits totaled over a thousand dollars. In 1891, the bank moved several blocks away to 604-608 North Second Street.
The bank continued to thrive even after the panic of 1893, during which it was the only bank to maintain full operation, honoring all checks and paying out the full value on the accounts. Even after Browne’s death in 1897, the bank continued its business, as new branches and other businesses were founded throughout the nation.
By the 1900s, the bank was operating in 24 states. At the turn of the century, the bank began to falter under its new president, Reverend William Lee Taylor. It was soon discovered that the bank’s cashier was embezzling money, which caused the bank to ultimately shut down. True Reformers Bank closed its doors on October 20, 1910.