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
Former Executive Director
National Minority Supplier Development Council
A native of the rural farming town of Jackson, North Carolina, Margaret Z. Richardson-Wiley’s resolute character led her to become one of this nation’s leading figures in bringing transformative opportunities for minority entrepreneurs. Richardson-Wiley’s ancestors were freed slaves, and her parents grappled to preserve their own land and farming venture against obstacles of racial discrimination in the American South during the early decades of the 20th century.
Richardson-Wiley acquired a nursing education followed by a career in the beauty industry leading to the position of vice president at Summit Labs in the 1960sâ€”one of only two African American-owned manufacturers of black-oriented hair care products in the nation at the time. Richardson-Wiley’s firsthand knowledge of the challenges encountered by minority business owners led her to reposition herself at the New York City office of the National Minority Purchasing Council, which later became the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)–a non-profit organization incorporated in 1973 and committed to providing increased procurement and business opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
Richardson-Wiley’s passion and skill quickly propelled her up the ladder within the institution, first as the executive director of the New York/New Jersey regional branch and, in October 1978, to the central role of executive director of the national organizationâ€”notably the first woman to hold that position. Richardson-Wiley left a lasting legacy of expanded business opportunities for minority-owned suppliers, and widened the horizons of the NMSDC’s reach.
By the time Richardson-Wiley retired in the early 1980s, she had decentralized the management of the NMSDC’s network by establishing vice presidents to run branches in six geographic regions to better supervise and cultivate the ever-growing relationships of the organization with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies; sought to leverage minority entrepreneurs by launching a nation-wide program to certify minority-owned firms; advanced the NMSDC’s partnerships with the national government; initiated incubator training programs for minority business owners to help them submit stronger bids and manage larger orders among large-scale suppliers; and identified early on the need for minority entrepreneurs to delve into business ventures within high-tech industries.
More than 30 years after arriving in the United States, Firoz H. Lalji has lived the ultimate American success story. Born of Indian ancestry in the East African country of Uganda, Lalji became the principal provider for his household at 24 when Idi Amin ousted his family from their home and their sugar-cane processing and coffee plantation business. Lalji immigrated with his family to Canada in 1971, completely impoverished. He banked on his finance skills honed while earning his degree at the London School of Economics to navigate the sea of obstacles in his entrepreneurial ambition.
In Vancouver, BC, he swiftly built a life for his family, founding the successful Kits Cameras photographic retailer chain in 1973 that eventually numbered 225 locations in both Canada and the Unites States. Lalji moved to Washington state in 1981 and, following the sale of Kits in 1997, he co-founded Zones, Inc. in 1988–a nationwide provider of progressive technology solutions to business and public sectors. In 1989, he found the real estate investment company Fana Capital Corporation.
Lalji had reinvented and revolutionized Zones, shaping the company into the fifth largest private company headquartered in Washington for 2013. In hopes of fueling success for other emerging minority entrepreneurs, Zones, under Lalji’s leadership, was a founding corporate partner of the University of Washington’s annual one-week immersive Minority Business Executive Program. Lalji additionally established the Program for African Leadership, a public charity which supports the development of the next generation of African leaders by providing funding for 15 participants at the London School of Economics annually, as well as other programs to benefit his home continent of Africa.
Business News Group
Don McKneely was engaged in the community newspaper business when he recognized a glaring need for a one-stop media source covering the entrepreneurial development occurring within all ethnic and underserved communities in America. Determined to be the editorial voice for these minority communities, McKneely launched the magazine Minority Business News USA (MBN USA) in 1988. At its founding, MBN USA was a solo venture with McKneely attending all of the minority business-related events, researching and composing stories, shooting photos, selling advertising, and distributing the magazine to vendors.
From the start, McKneely has stressed the mission of MBN USA to “always focus on relationships” and “articulate the value of minority business and diverse markets.” This strategy opened up partnerships with business communities and corporations alike. A quarter of a century later, MBN USA is now “America’s #1 magazine about minority business and supplier diversity,” and has spawned the sister publications Women’s Enterprise, Asian Business News and American Indian Business News.
McKneely’s passionate belief in the power of leveraging astute partnerships to infuse diversity in suppliers for small, medium and large-scale businesses alike led him to co-found the non-profit Billion Dollar Roundtable (BDR). BDR unites large corporations who spend a minimum of a billion dollars per year with minority suppliers, and aspires to inform on the best strategies to create sustainable partnerships between minority-owned businesses and the rest of corporate America.
Charles Timothy Haffey (d. 2012) demonstrated steadfast commitment to social equality and equalizing the economic playing field throughout his life. Haffey spent the entirety of his professional career at the well-established international research and pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. His years of dedicated service led to the distinguished position of Vice President of Corporate Purchasing for the corporation. Haffey’s sense of dutiful obligations to others was apparent with the impact he made in Pfizer’s private-sector supplier practice while in this position, advocating for diversity in the company’s supply base.
In 1979, the leadership of the National Minority Business Council (NMBC) noticed Haffey’s fortitude. The NMBC, still in its adolescence, had been chartered in 1972 to expand business and educational opportunities for minority entrepreneurs, and its council leaders were seeking a means to transform the corporation into a “full-time” entity. The NMBC approached Haffey for his guidance. Haffey promoted the value of the NMBC to the executives of Pfizer, securing the organization a donated office space within Pfizer to serve as the institution’s first real home.
Following Haffey’s retirement from Pfizer in 1984 he became an instrumental figure for the NMBC, enlisting his time as the NMBC’s Corporate Executive Volunteer to relentlessly promote the growth of the organization and build corporate partnerships. Haffey “represents the type of courage and dedication, and the leadership and foresight for the causeâ€¦ way before his time,” reflects NMBC President and CEO John F. Robinson.