hidden figures: former slave william washington browne founded the first black-owned bank

February 16, 2017
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We often talk about firsts in the realm of sports, entertainment, or politics, but rarely do we look towards the economic accomplishments of Black people in the United States. Former slave William Washington Browne was the first to start a black-owned financial institution with the help of one of the first Black fraternal order the Grand United Order of True Reformers. Browne was born into slavery as Ben Browne in Habersham County, Georgia on October 20, 1849 to Joseph Browne and Mariah Browne, and sold to a horse trader around age eight. After this sale Browne changed his name to William Washington. As a young adult, Browne escaped his owners during the Civil War and joined the Union army, where he remained until he was discharged from service in 1862. After discharge Browne attended school in Wisconsin and began a teaching position in the South, during which time he met and married his wife Mary A. Graham. Browne’s philosophy in life and in his activism was complete independence from white people. He wanted as many Black people as humanly possible to live without dependening on the white community, especially economically and financially speaking. To that end, Browne created a bank, established insurance and assisted his community to buy land and property. As a former slave and proponent of the temperance movement, he was an outspoken opponent of the Ku Klux Klan and helped campaign against them through both word and deed. William Washington Browne embodies resilience, forethought, excellence and fortitude in his creating the first ever Black owned-bank and opened the door for institutions of all kinds to be owned by Black people. William Washington Browne is a hidden figure no more!

By T. McLendon, AFROPUNK Contributor