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Historic Seaway Bank Celebrates 50 Years on the South Side

 Seaway Bank and Trust Co. in Chatham is the city's largest black-owned bank with $550 million in assets.
Seaway Bank and Trust Co. in Chatham is the city's largest black-owned bank with $550 million in assets.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHATHAM — Loyal customers of Seaway Bank and Trust Company celebrated the historic institution’s 50-year anniversary on Friday.

More than 100 people who have been customers at the bank since the 1960s were invited to the bank's headquarters, 645 E. 87th St., for a celebration.

“Having a Black institution like this that has not only survived, but is thriving, is exciting,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said.

“Hopefully, it will expand its new services to accommodate more people throughout the city of Chicago."

Nona McCall was one of the oldest customers present. She and her husband first opened an account with Seaway in 1965.

“I’m always happy to support my community and my people,” said McCall, who added that she is happy to have been a part of the institution’s success.

 Nona McCall celebrates Seaway Bank's 50 year anniversary on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. She opened her account with the institution when it first opened in 1965.
Nona McCall celebrates Seaway Bank's 50 year anniversary on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. She opened her account with the institution when it first opened in 1965.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

The bank first opened its doors in January of 1965 by a group of businessmen who witnessed the discriminatory lending practices many African Americans faced on the South Side during that period. The South Side institution quickly became a fair and welcoming place for the Black community.

Today, its main facility is at 645 E. 87th St., but originally it was located at 8555 S. Cottage Grove Ave. in a rented storefront. In 1982, Seaway’s founder, Ernest Collins, retired as the board’s chairman, allowing Jacoby Dickens to replace him in 1983. The bank soon became the largest African American-owned bank in the country.

Veranda Dickens became the board’s chair a few months after her husband passed away in April of 2013.

“One of the reasons why I got involved with the bank in the midst of my mourning was because I immediately started thinking about this community and about this bank,” Dickens said.

She recognized the important role that Seaway has played in the success of many black businesses, and said she wanted to help continue the legacy. There has been a decline in the number of minority-owned banks and Dickens said she refuses to let Seaway fail.

“I can tell you that the number of minority-owned banks around the country is shrinking at a very fast and alarming rate, but I can promise you that that is not going to happen to Seaway Bank. We will be here for another 50 years and beyond,” she said. 

Darrell B. Jackson, the institution’s president and CEO, said there are 28 black-owned banks out of 6,600 banks nationwide.

“There is a lot of information out that shows that our banks are very important to the community, the lending is three to four times greater than other non community banks or larger banks. Our involvement in the community is more important probably now than it has probably ever been,” he said.

Seaway Bank had a rough 2013, suffering financial losses of $4.4 million after it bought two banks, but officials at the time denied reports that it would be sold.

Bernard Shelton first started doing business with the bank in 1965. He said the decision was an easy one for him because he has also been a strong supporter of black-owned businesses. As a long term Chatham resident, he said he has seen a lot of businesses come and go, and it concerns him.

 Seaway's CEO and President Darrell Jackson thanks some of the institution's first customers at the 50 year anniversary celebration on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
Seaway's CEO and President Darrell Jackson thanks some of the institution's first customers at the 50 year anniversary celebration on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Andrea V. Watson

“Many private businesses that I remember from the 1960s simply do not exist in the black community today, and that’s a tragedy in my opinion,” he said.

Jackson accepted his role last August and he said he wants to focus on lower to middle market companies because access to capital is still a challenge for some. His goal is to help more entrepreneurs launch businesses.

Other plans for 2015 relate to technology. Releasing mobile applications later this year is on the list, as well as improving their online banking capabilities and adding more ATMs.

Attracting younger customers is on Jackson’s list, but he still wants to keep the older customers. He said Seaway will help those interested with retirement plans and investment opportunities.

Sawyer said he and Dickens have plans to continue providing financial literacy courses to the community. He said he is happy to see Seaway still standing after all of these years and that he will celebrate the anniversary throughout the year.

“This is not just a one-day birthday celebration, this is a yearlong celebration and I plan on being a part of it the entire year,” he said.

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