Credit union created by black educators celebrates its community legacy

Credit union created by black educators celebrates its community legacy

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - At the busy intersection of Bainbridge Street and W. Commerce Road lies the first and last black federal credit union in Richmond.

“It was started by 10 African-American teachers in 1936, and this was done in the middle of the great depression.” Randy Cooper, president of Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union, said.

During that time African-Americans were not allowed in white-owned establishments, so 10 educators who graduated from Virginia Union University decided to create a bank for black educators.

First Charter (Source: Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union)
First Charter (Source: Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union)

“They saw a need, individuals needed resources and they pulled together to be able to come up and provide the economic resources that individuals needed,” Cooper said.

Before landing a permanent home in the Southside area, the Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union started in one of the founders’ kitchen.

“She would actually keep the money in the kitchen drawer, so when people would come to get their money or borrow money she would pull the drawer out, the money out, and pull a fork out because they were feeding physically and financially,” Cooper said.

Cooper said it didn’t matter where and how the job would get done. The founding members just had one idea in mind - to allow people access to their money.

“Not only were they teaching people how to read, but they were teaching people to have finance to have ownership," Cooper said.

For 83 years, this credit union has survived the ever-changing financial environment and retired board member Catherine Makin has seen that first hand.

She was taught by several of the founders in elementary and high school.

“I grew up in the Great Depression, which means that we didn’t have a lot, so it was necessary for us to obtain something,” Makin said. “My teachers were positive, and they always taught you can do more and I’m expecting more of you.”

Board member Catherine Makin years before she retired (Source:Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union)
Board member Catherine Makin years before she retired (Source:Richmond Heritage Federal Credit Union)

Makin says she’s proud to see it still standing because without it she doesn’t know where she would be today.

“For me, the credit union has been my stepping stone that allowed me when I retired to retire,” Makin said.

Now that it’s the last of its kind in Richmond, employees hope to continue their founders’ legacy by putting the community first.

“We want people to share the story we want people to inspire others to be apart of something bigger themselves," Cooper said. “At the end of the day we want people to profit from the relationships.”

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