(Editor's note: Jeff Hardin wrote a guest column for CU Insight on early African American cooperation in NC. Please click here to read it.)
Sparked by an interest in learning more about early NC credit union history and in particular the contributions African Americans made to the movement, the League is conducting research on the first credit union in NC organized by African Americans. While the research is still in the early stages, more information is being compiled about Piedmont Credit Union, which was organized April 19, 1918 in Landis (Rowan County).
According to the African American CU Coalition (AACUC), Piedmont CU holds the distinction of being the first credit union chartered to serve African Americans in NC as well as the United States. "No one has been able to document an earlier chartering date than Piedmont's," said Jeff Hardin, NCCUL Director of Communications.
The League uncovered an article written in 1920 by Thomas Patterson, a founding member of the credit union, that chronicles the early days of the credit union. Patterson's account also notes that within a year of Piedmont's founding, three other African American CUs had organized in surrounding communities. "Beyond that article, we don't know a lot about Piedmont," noted Hardin. "The NC Credit Union Commission is looking into its archives, but thus far they have only been able find chartering information back to 1923. Hopefully, they will be able to uncover more information as they look further into their historical records."
In the meantime, research is turning to the local level to see if any historical documents exist at the Rowan County Courthouse, in African American Churches in the area and with family members who may have been connected with the credit union.
While the League conducts research on NC's first African American CU, the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) is conducting interviews with African American CU leaders. Working in partnership with Self-Help CU, the SOHP has interviewed eight longtime African American CU leaders, including founders, managers and board members. They hope to receive grant funding to conduct more interviews in the future.
The SOHP is based at the Center for the Study of the American South at UNC Chapel Hill. For forty years, the program has worked to preserve the voices of the Southern past. Researchers have collected more than 5,000 interviews with people from all walks of life—from mill workers to civil rights leaders to future presidents of the United States.
The League hopes to eventually delve into some of the other early credit unions in NC, including the first, chartered in Lowe's Grove (Durham County) in 1916. "The African American research is most urgent because frankly we don't know a lot about their stories," noted Hardin. "African Americans made important contributions to the cooperative movement, and enthusiastically embraced the cooperative model from the very start. Their initial efforts at credit union formation eventually led to the Community Development CU system that thrives in NC today. Their accomplishments should be properly recognized.
"We also plan to weave their stories into some of the other credit union activities that were going on at that time so that we can tell our history in a fuller, more inclusive way," said Hardin. If you or your credit union has information that may be helpful in this process, please contact Jeff Hardin at (800) 822-8859, ext. 9063.