What was the True Reformers Bank?

The Savings Bank of the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers was the first bank owned by African Americans in the United States. It was founded on March 2, 1888 by Reverend William Washington Browne and opened on April 3, 1889.

Born in 1849, Browne was a former Georgia slave who escaped joined the Union Army in the North. After the American Civil War, he founded the Grand Fountain United Order of True Reformers, a black fraternal organization. In 1887 when Browne visited Charlotte County, Virginia to establish a local branch of the True Reformers, he encountered problems. The branch arranged to keep its savings with a white shopkeeper in the county, but with racial tensions high after an 1887 lynching, the shopkeeper told other white residents that local blacks were organizing and raising funds, and the branch was forced to disband. Browne decided the True Formers would have to found and run a bank itself so that its finances could 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 the Jackson Ward district of Richmond, Virginia. The first day’s deposits totaled $1,269.28. In 1891, the bank moved several blocks away to 604-608 North Second Street. The bank grew and survived the financial panic of 1893, during which it was the only bank in Richmond to maintain full operation, honoring all checks and paying out the full value of accounts.


Rev. Browne died in 1897 but the bank continued to thrive after his death, expanding into a number of other services including a newspaper, a real estate agency, a retirement home and a building and loan association. New branches opened as far away as Kansas, and by 1900 the bank was operating in 24 states, owning property valued at a total of $223,500.

After the turn of the century, the bank’s prospects began to falter under its new president, Reverend William Lee Taylor. Distant branches were poorly regulated, and the strict rules the bank had required for its operations in its first years were allowed to grow lax. Under Taylor, the bank made large, unsecured loans to finance lodge projects. Those loans often defaulted. When the bank’s cashier, R.T. Hill, was discovered to have embezzled $50,000 from the company, the resulting scandal brought down the bank, and most account holders lost their savings.

The bank examiner of the banking division of the State Corporation Commission ordered the closure of the bank on October 20, 1910. True Reformers Bank was placed into receivership six days later.

Contributor: BLACKPAST.ORG


African Americans attacked and killed during the Thibodaux Massacre

The Thibodaux Massacre was a racial attack by local whites against blacks in Thibodaux, Louisiana in November of 1887.

It all began when the Knight of Labor (K of L), one of the largest and important American labor organization of the 1880’s were informed of the mistreatment and underpaid workers on sugar plantations in Thibodaux. The major issue on the sugar plantations were, the workers were begin force by the plantation owners to accept scrip for pay instead of currency, and the scrip were only redeemable at the owners store. Most of the workers were black and even through slavery had been abolished by this time over twenty years the black workers found themselves still in a form of slavery as they worked on these plantations.


In October, about a month before the strike the Knight of Labor (K of L) made demands to the plantation owners to increase the sugar cane workers wages to $1.25 a day, bi-weekly payments and demanded they pay their works in currency and not in scrip. After the plantation owners ignored all of Knight of Labor(K of L) demands a strike was called. The strike threatened the sugar cane harvest for that year. The plantation owners seek help from the Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery, who was also a sugar cane planter and the Governor called in the Militia.

On the morning the November 22, most of the sugar plantation workers along with the Knight of Labor(K of L) began their strike against the owners and their regulations. The militia attacked the strikers and the attack lasted three days. Although the number of casualties is unknown, at least 35 whites were killed and as many as 300 blacks were said to be killed, wounded or missing.


What was Brown Fellowship Society?

The Brown Fellowship Society was an benevolent society of free Black-Americans and racially mixed men. The brown Society was founded in Charleston, South Carolina in 1790, and is the oldest all-male funeral society in Charleston. It’s founders were James Mitchell, George Bampfield, William Cattel, George Bedon, and Samuel Saltus. All were mulatto men and attended St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Although the Church was interracial, the attached cemetery was restricted to whites. The Brown’s Society was not linked to a church, even though the founders were. The Society even banned religious discussion.

Whites were not the only group of people that were banned from the Brown’s Society, but dark skinned people were also. Typically only free light skinned and mulatto men were allowed to join only, but sometimes darker skinned individuals with straight naturally hair were allowed to join as well. It provides a major historical example how racism and slavery affected the Black American community. The lighter skinned black Americans in society considered themselves superior to darker skinned Black Americans, although still considered inferior by the white population. All who joined were considered prosperous and a few wealthy. Most of the society members held affluent jobs such as shoemakers and tailors, but were still subjected to prejudice from the white community.

Determined not to upset the white community, the society did nothing to help slaves and were careful about whom they admitted into their society, which consisted of no more than fifty men at a time. In fact, prospective members were voted in after three meetings, then that person would be allowed to join.

Darker skinned black men, led by Thomas Smalls formed their own society called The Society for Free Blacks of Dark Complexion, in 1843, and they purchased their own burial land. After the Brown Fellowship Society aimed to establish their own cemetery (at the time the society were using the church cemetery), for “Brown” Black- American individuals, believing it would bring a sense of social unity among the light skin and mulatto Americans. Officially states purposes were to provide respectable funerals for their society members, support to the widows, and educations to the surviving children.

After the American Civil War, the Brown Fellowship Society expanded to include more Black Americans, including women and those of darker skin. The society was renamed the “Century Fellowship Society” about 100 years after its founding. The graveyard property was sold in 1945 by descendants of the Century Fellowship Society. In the late 1950s the graveyard was paved over so that a parking lot could be built for Catholic Bishop England High School. In 1990, the graveyard descendants organized to erect a small memorial to their ancestors, who are buried beneath the asphalt.

What was Pythian Base Ball Club?


Pythian Base Ball Club was an Black American baseball team out of Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Pythian’s also known as the Pythian Base Ball Club were founded in 1867, as the first black baseball club. The club founders were two young black Americans childhood friends and prominent leaders in the black community Jacob Clement White Jr. and Octavius Valentine Catto (February 22, 1839 – October 10, 1871). Catto and White believed baseball was another way in which blacks could assert their skills and be independent, and prove their rights to full citizenship and equality. The Pythian’s were composed of primarily black business men and middle class professionals from Philadelphia, and New York City. Two-years after the American Civil War ended in 1867, the Pythian Base Ball Club applied for entry into the Pennsylvania State Convention of Baseball, located in Harrisburg, but was denied. Despite many setbacks the Pythian’s enter it’s team first Season that took place in 1867, under Catto. The Pythian’s first game was played at Diamond Cottage Park in Camden, New Jersey. The Pythian’s believed that credibility and acceptance could be promoted by competing against “our white brethren” on a baseball Diamond. In September of 1869, the Pythian’s got that chance and beat an all-white Philadelphia city team. This was likely one of the earliest interracial game recorded. Baseball has been denied to Black-Americans and was considered a route to American Cultural assimilation. Years after the American Civil War Black Americans and baseball grew exponentially. Catto pioneered the racial shift in baseball.

The Pythian’s were refused membership in the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP), based on their race. The NABBP banned “the admission of any club which may be composed of one or more colored persons.”. The association feared divisions among players if colored clubs were admitted. Ultimately, this set the precedent for segregated Major Leagues and independent leagues which flourished in the twentieth century. Therefore, the club was the first attempt to integrate African American males into the segregated baseball league. By 1871, the NABBP dissolved and the team was no longer restricted by such rules. Finally, after the United States Supreme Courts made the decision to sanction racial segregation in United States Baseball through the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Overall, the sport helped to close the color gap and provided the Black American community with a sense of pride and respect. Once admitted into the major leagues, America’s segregation issues in baseball began to crumble.

By 1902, the Pythian’s had morphed into the Philadelphia Giants which went on to win five championship games in the Eastern League. Baseball had become something that exuded equality and optimism, a reconstruction.




Who was Octavius Valentine Catto?

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Octavius V. Catto was a Prominent Black American leader, activist, scholar, athlete, educator, and military officer in the National Guard.

Catto was born free in Charleston, South Carolina on February 22, 1839, to parents William T. Catto and Sarah Isabella Cain. Catto mother was a free woman and member of the city’s prominent mixed-race DeReef family. His father was a slave in Millwright, South Carolina, who gained his freedom and became a prominent Presbyterian Minister. When Elder Catto was ordained he moved his family out of the South and to the North. First to Baltimore then to Philadelphia where they settled and William soon became the pastor at the First African Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Catto began his education at Vaux Primary School and then Lombard Grammar School, both were segregated institutions at that time. The Catto family moved to New Jersey, and in 1853, at the age fourteen-years-old, a young Catto enrolled in the all-white Allentown Academy in Allentown, New Jersey. The following year the Catto family moved back to Philadelphia, and Catto enrolled at the Institute for Colored Youth (ICY). There in ICY, Catto took up in Curriculum such as Classical study, Latin, Greek, geometry, and trigonometry. In 1858, at the age nineteen Catto graduated with honors and as valedictorian. Catto moved to Washington D.C. to further his education.

In 1859, Catto returned to Philadelphia and accepted an teaching position at ICY. He was an instructor of literature, mathematics, Greek, and Latin at ICY.

When the Confederate Army invaded Pennsylvania in 1863, culminating in the Battle of Gettysburg, Catto responded to the call for emergency troops by raising one of the first volunteer companies, the 5th Brigade of the Pennsylvania National Guard. He served as major and inspector general in the brigade.  Catto helped raise eleven regiments of “Colored Troops” in Pennsylvania who were then trained at Camp William Penn before being sent to the warfront.

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Even while in uniform, Catto founded the Banneker Literary Institute and the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League in October 1864. He was a member of several other civic, literary, patriotic, and political groups, including the Philadelphia Library Company, 4th Ward Black Political Club, and the Franklin Institute. After the Civil War, Catto started a Philadelphia protest movement that led to passage of the 1867 Pennsylvania law that prohibited racially segregated public transportation.

Catto was active not just in the public arenas of education and equal rights, but also on the sporting field. Like many other young men of Philadelphia, both white and black, Catto began playing cricket while in school, as it was a British tradition. Later he took up the American sport of baseball. Following the Civil War, he helped establish Philadelphia as a major hub of what became Negro league baseball. Along with Jacob C. White, Jr. he ran the Pythian Base Ball Club of Philadelphia. The Pythian’s had an undefeated season in 1867. Following the 1867 season, Catto, with support by players from the white Athletic Base Ball Club, applied for the Pythian’s’ admission into the newly formed Pennsylvania Base Ball Association. As it became clear that they would lose any vote by the Association, they withdrew their application. In 1869 the Pythian’s challenged various white baseball teams in Philadelphia to games. The Olympic Ball Club accepted the challenge. The first match game between black and white baseball teams took place on September 4, 1869, ending in the Pythian’s’ defeat, 44 to 23.


On Election Day, October 10, 1871, Catto was teaching in Philadelphia. Fights broke out in the city between black and white voters, as the elections were high in tension and parties reflected racial opposition. Black voters, who were mostly Republican, faced intimidation and violence from white voters, especially ethnic Irish, who were partisans of the city’s Democratic Machine. Irish immigrants had entered the city in great numbers during and after the Great Famine of the 1840s; they competed with free blacks for jobs and housing. City police were called on to stop the violence. Instead, the officers joined the Irish by using their power to prevent black citizens from voting. A Lieutenant Haggerty was later arrested for having encouraged police under his command to keep African Americans from voting.


On his way to vote, Catto was intermittently harassed by whites. Police reports indicate that he had purchased a revolver for protection. At the intersection of Ninth and South streets, Catto was accosted by Frank Kelly, an ethnic Irish man, who fired several shots at Catto, with one bullet piercing his heart. Catto later died of his wounds. The city inquest were unable to determine if Catto had pulled his own gun. Kelly escaped Philadelphia after the shooting but was found six years later in Chicago, Illinois and extradited to Philadelphia for trial. At trial on April 23, 1877, six prosecution eyewitnesses—three whites and three blacks—identified Kelly as the shooter. Despite their testimony, an all-white jury acquitted Kelly.


Catto never married. He was engaged to Sarah LeCount but was killed before the wedding could take place. Catto’s military funeral was at Lebanon Cemetery in Philadelphia, and was attended by more than five thousand people. Later, after the cemetery was closed down, Catto’s remains were reinterred at Eden Cemetery, in Collingdale, Pennsylvania. Thirty-five years later in 1906, the O.V. Catto Lodge (associated with Masonry) was formed in Philadelphia in his honor.









Who was Levi Jenkins Coppin?


Levi Jenkins Coppin was an prominent black leader, educator, and minister.

Coppin was born in Frederick Town, Maryland in 1848 to Jane Lily and John Coppin.  He had six siblings. Coppin’s mother taught her children to read and write at an early age and was very religious, which influenced him greatly. She held secret classes (against state law prohibiting blacks to assemble) during week nights as well as on Sunday mornings educating both free blacks and slaves.

At the end of the Civil War a school was created for black children in the Friendship Church in Frederick Town with Jane Coppin was the school’s first teacher. In 1866 a regular day school for blacks was established in the county.  Levi Coppin attended for two terms, eventually becoming a teacher there himself.

At the age of 17 Levi Coppin began to study the Scriptures and became motivated to seek higher education. He moved to Wilmington, Delaware, where he cast his first vote at age twenty, joined the Bethel A.M.E. Church and married his first wife, Martha Grinnage, a schoolteacher. Their only child, a boy, died nine months after birth and his wife died only eighteen days later.


In 1877 Coppin became a minister at Bethel A.M.E Church.  By 1879 he was placed in charge of the Philadelphia City Mission; a circuit of smaller missions in the area operated by the AM.E Church.  After two years of service Coppin was transferred to Baltimore where he became the pastor of the Baltimore Bethel AME Church. On December 21, 1881, Coppin married school principal Fanny Jackson (January 8, 1837 – January 21, 1913), who was also a prominent black leader in the community

It was during this time at Baltimore Bethel that Coppin became the editor of the A.M.E Church Review, a journal which reported on significant political, religious and social issues. He remained the editor until 1896, the same year in which he was announced as a candidate for the bishopric at the A.M.E General Conference. He did not receive it. Four years later he was again up for the candidacy and this time secured it.  In 1902 Coppin was assigned to Cape Town, South Africa. While in Cape Town he organized the mission house Bethel Institute and he and his second wife, Fanny Jackson Coppin, traveled to the African interior setting up numerous smaller mission houses for African natives. One being Bethel Institute.

The Coppin’s remained in South Africa until 1912.  Soon after returning to the United States, Fanny Jackson Coppin died in January 1913. After more than a year of mourning he remarried and a year and a half later his third wife M. Evelyn Thompson gave birth to their daughter Theodosia. In 1919 Coppin’s autobiography, Unwritten History, was published. Coppin died five years later in 1924, at his home in Philadelphia. He was 76-years-old.

What was Fanny Jackson Coppin Club?


The Fanny Jackson Coppin Club was originally founded to provide hospitality and housing services to Black-American visitors who were not welcomed in the segregated hotels and other commercial establishments that proliferated in the Bay Area and around the state.   The club expanded its services to a variety of community activities including tutorial assistance for Black American students and producing literary and musical programs showcasing the talents of Black Americans. Roland Hayes (June 3, 1887 – January 1, 1977), the internationally acclaimed tenor, was a frequent performer at Beth Eden Baptist Church and other Bay Area churches in musical recitals sponsored by the Fannie Jackson Coppin Club.

The Fanny Jackson Coppin Club was established in 1899 by members of the Beth Eden Baptist Church, one of Oakland, California’s oldest African American religious institutions (est. 1889).  The club was named in honor of Fanny Jackson Coppin (January 8, 1837 – January 21, 1913), who was born a slave in Washington, D.C. and became a renowned educator and tireless advocate for Black American civil rights.  The Fanny Jackson Coppin Club is known as the “mother club” of the Black American women’s club movement in California.  Its motto became, “Not failure, but low aim is the crime.” The Fanny Jackson Coppin Club was part of the ongoing African American struggle to address an array of social and economic community needs and to challenge the barriers of segregation and sexism.  The Fanny Jackson Coppin Club is still in existence, continuing a long-established tradition of black female voluntary community service and providing new generations of Black women with an institutional base for nurturing leadership and activism.

Who was Fanny Jackson Coppin?


Fanny J. Coppin was an Black-American educator, missionary, and a life long advocate for black female higher education.

Fanny was born into slavery in the Nation Capital on October 15, 1837. when she was twelve-years-old, Fanny gained her freedom when her aunt purchased her freedom. But Fanny was sent to live with another aunt in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Living in New Bedford, Fanny worked as a domestic servant for George Henry Calvert (January 2, 1803 – May 24, 1889), where she learned how to read. By the age fourteen Fanny moved to Newport, Rhode Island alone, she struggle for an education and used the little salary she received to hire a private tutor, three hours a week. Years later Fanny wrote “It was in me, to get an education and to teach my people. This idea was deep in my soul.”


Fanny briefly attending an segregated Rhode Island State Normal School, an public school in Newport (Now Rhode Island College). She decided to relocate to Oberlin, Ohio in 1860, and enrolled in Oberlin College, where her achievements were amazing. Oberlin College was the first college in the United States to accept both Black and female students. Fanny became the first black American to be chosen as a pupil-teacher at Oberlin College. In her senior year at Oberlin College, she organized evening classes for free Black Americans in reading and writing.

In 1865, at the age twenty-eight, Fanny graduated with a bachelor’s degree, and the same year she accepted a position In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania). Fanny began serving as the principal of the ladies department at ICY, teaching Greek, Latin, and mathematics. Within four years at ICY, Fanny was appointed as the head principal of ICY, after the departure of Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett (October 16, 1833 – November 13, 1908). This position Fanny were able to influence two generations of young Black-Americans.


Fanny was responsible for the vast education improvement in Philadelphia. She expanded the curriculum to include the Industrial Department, and established a women’s industrial exchanged to display the mechanical and artistic work of young black women. Fanny also, founded the a home for girls and young women, that housed workers from out of town. But, Fanny did not stop there, she also persuade employers to hire her pupils in capacities that would utilize their abilities. During Fanny years as principal of ICY, she was promoted by the Board of Education to superintendent of a school district in the United States, but soon went back to being a school principal.


On December 21, 1881, at the age forty-four, Fanny married Reverend Levi Jenkins Coppin (1848 – 1924), a prominent black leader, and minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), and together they became a driving force in the Black community. Fanny continued to work at the ICY, but add missionary work to her interest. In 1902, at the age 56, Fanny retired from ICY and began a new journey with her husband. She accompanied her husband, now a bishop, to Cape Town, South Africa, where they did missionary work counseling African women. While in South African Fanny and her husband founded the Bethel Institute. Fanny returned to the United States in 1907, and settled back in Philadelphia. After almost a decade of missionary work Fanny health began to declining. In her last years, she was able to complete her autobiography, and a book called ‘Reminiscences of School Life’. Fanny Jackson Coppin passed away on January 21, 1913, at the age 76.


In 1926, Baltimore, Maryland Teacher Training School was named the Fanny Jackson Coppin Normal School (now Coppin State University) in her honor.

Who was Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett?


Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett was an Black-American educator, leader, abolitionist, and civil rights activist.

Bassett was born in Derby, Connecticut on October 16, 1833 to parents Eben Tobias and Susan Gregory. During the mid-1800s, Bassett attended college, becoming the first black student to integrate into the Connecticut Normal School in 1853.  He then taught in New Haven, befriending the legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass (born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, February 1818 – February 20, 1895). Later, he became the 2nd principal of Institute for Colored Youth (ICY) In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (now Cheyney University of Pennsylvania). Dedicated to educating black youth in the country. Bassett focused on teaching the Youth Latin, Greek, mathematics and science.


During the American Civil War, Bassett became one of the city’s leading voices into the cause behind that conflict, the liberation of four million black slave and helped recruit African American soldiers for the Union Army. United States 18th President, Ulysses S. Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant; April 27, 1822 – July 23, 1885), nominated Bassett to become Minister Resident to Haiti (the title Ambassador in today’s U.S.). This title made Bassett one of the highest ranking black members of the United States government. During his tenure the American Minister Resident also dealt with cases of citizen commercial claims, diplomatic immunity for his consular and commercial agents, hurricanes, fires, and numerous tropical diseases.

The case that posed the greatest challenge to Bassett, however, was Haitian political refugee General Pierre Théoma Boisrond-Canal ( June 12, 1832 – March 6, 1905). The general was among the band of young leaders who had successfully ousted the former Haiti President Sylvain Salnave (1827–1870), from power in 1869.  By the time of the subsequent Michel Domingue (July 28, 1813 – May 24, 1877), regime in the mid 1870s Canal had retired to his home outside the capital.  Domingue, the new Haitian President, however, brutally hunted down any perceived threat to his power including Canal. General Canal came to Bassett and requested political asylum.  A standoff resulted, with Bassett’s home surrounded by over a thousand of Domingue’s soldiers.  Finally, after five-month siege of his residence, Bassett negotiated Canal’s safe release for exile in Jamaica.


Upon the end of the Grant Administration in 1877, Bassett submitted his resignation as was customary with a change of hands in government.  When he returned to the United States, he spent an additional ten years as the Consul General for Haiti in New York City, New York City. Bassett returned to Philadelphia, where he moved near his daughter Charlotte, who also taught at ICY. On November 13, 1908, Ebenezer Don Carlos Bassett died in Philadelphia. He was 75-years-old.

Who was Charles L. Reason?


Charles Lewis Reason was an Black American mathematician, linguist, and educator.

Reason was born on July 21, 1818, in New York City. His parents were Michael and Elizabeth Reason, who were immigrants from Guadeloupe and Saint-Dominque Haiti. Both of Reasons came as refugees in 1793 shortly after the early years of the Haitian Revolution of 1793.

The Reason’s were big on education for their children, and early on young Reason showed a aptitude for mathematics. Reason began his American education at the New York African Free School, and at the age fourteen Reason began teaching mathematics at the same school. His salary was $25 per year. Reason went on to study at New-York Central College, McGrawville, an predominantly white college in the United States.

In 1850, Reason began teaching at the same college and began professor of belles lettres, Greek, Latin, and French, while serving as an adjust professor of mathematics to majority white students. He was actually the first African-American to serve as a serve at a majority-white college.

Two years before becoming an professor in 1847, Reason along with other prominent African-Americans, such as Charles Bennett Ray (December 25, 1807 – August 15, 1886), founded the New York – Based Society, for the promotion of Education among colored children.


After three years at New-York Central College, Reason gave up his positions and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and assume an position as principal at the Institute for Colored Youth first black principal. The institution was founded in 1837, and was one of the best schools for African- Americans in the United States. (later the school was renamed to Cheyney University).

During his time at ICY, Reason increased enrollment from six students to 118 students. He also expanded the library holdings and exposed the students to outstanding African-American intellectuals and leaders of that time. He held this position until 1856. reason returned to New York City, where he became an administrator, and reformer of New York public schools. A position he held for decades.

Reason was active and very instrumental in efforts to abolish slavery and segregation and 1873, he successfully lobbied for passage to integrate New York’s public schools. After the public schools were desegregated in New York, he became the principal of Grammar School No. 80 at 252 West 42nd street.

Reason suffered two strokes one in 1885, and another in 1890. The effects of the strokes left him physically incapacitated.

Three years after his last stroke and at the age 75, Charles Lewis Reason passed away in New York City on August 16, 1893, and is buried in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.