The Founders Of Liberty Bank
The story of Liberty Bank is one of civic activism, courage and perseverance. From the day Liberty Bank opened its doors in the heart of Seattle’s multiethnic Central District neighborhood in May 1968, as the first multiracial bank west of the Mississippi River, the Institution was regarded by members of the community just as the name of the banking establishment implies: A guidepost for liberating opportunity and economic equality. The idea of a minority-owned financial institution had been born in 1952 by members of Seattle’s Prince Hall Grand Lodge, a Masonic Order for African Americans, as they witnessed African Americans’ isolation from the economic prosperity of Seattle’s metropolitan core. Unequal treatment of minority entrepreneurs by mainstream lending establishments and restrictive, discriminatory housing covenants within Seattle led to disproportionate poverty, particularly in Seattle’s Central District where many African Americans were pressed to move after World War II. Members of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge initially founded the Sentinel Credit Union in 1958, but strove to establish a bank that could offer such critical services as home and business loans and checking accounts to members of the community, as well.
JAMES C. PURNELL , one of the crusaders and founding members of the Sentinel Credit Union, worked endlessly alongside nine other neighborhood pioneers and his wife MARDINE PURNELL —a passionate advocate for black equality in her own right—in a grassroots movement localized in the basement of the Purnells’ home. From this basement, the group organized the bank’s Board of Directors, devised the bank’s charter, and housed the stock certificates from more than 500 Seattle shareholders—nearly 80% of whom were African American—who had confidence in the power a minority-owned bank could provide for the financial assurance of the entrepreneurial class.
In 1967, after years of appeals for financial investments, numerous bank charter rejections, and strife in obtaining land to construct the envisioned bank, the group’s bank charter, the Supervisor of Banking and Comptroller of Currency finally granted approval. The bank did not disappoint the Central District’s residents. “It was a place where people could go and get a start, get a foothold into financial security,” commented former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice. An elevated number of minority-owned businesses arose in the area, as well as a growth in the number of construction projects and home ownership, largely due to the opportunities afforded by Liberty Bank.
The ten founding board members of Liberty Bank included many trailblazers within the community: HOLBROOK L. GARRETT , civil rights activist and the first African American electrical engineer in the Pacific Northwest; DR. ROBERT N. JOYNER, JR. , one of Seattle’s first African American physicians; THE REV. DR. SAMUEL MCKINNEY , a social activist and pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church; MARDINE PURNELL , a founding member of the National Association of Colored Women’s Club in Seattle; JACK H. RICHLEN , a Jewish Russian immigrant who owned a number of successful businesses in the Central District, including a small butcher shop and later a popular mini-mart specializing in fried chicken, and who purchased the land for the intended building site of Liberty Bank; and GEORGE T. TOKUDA , a first-generation Japanese American born in the Mukilteo Lumber Company’s community housing project known as “Japanese Gulch,” and who went on to establish two prosperous pharmacies in Seattle’s International District following his taxing internment during WWII in southeastern Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center.
FOUNDERS of LIBERTY BANK • SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
Founding Board Of Directors
Pictured From Left To Right
Dr. Robert N. Joyner, Jr. • Munro S. Wilson • Mardine Purnell • Dr. James E. Jackson • James I. Burton • Holbrook L. Garrett • Rev. Dr. Samuel McKinney • George T. Tokuda • Larry Cruwell (Cashier) • Jack H. Richlen
Founding Board Member & 1st President (Not Pictured):
Joel F. Gould
Organizer & President 1971-1983 (Not Pictured):
James C. Purnell