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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment of the Greensboro National Bank

Frye describes his role in the establishment of the Greensboro National Bank in 1971. Frye explains that in Greensboro, there were few roles for African Americans to pursue positions of leadership in business endeavors. Inspired by examples such as North Carolina Mutual and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank in Durham, Frye sought to rectify this discrepancy and open up opportunities for African Americans with the Greensboro National Bank. He served as president for the first ten years and describes the obstacles they worked to overcome in those first years.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Henry Ell Frye, February 18 and 26, 1992. Interview C-0091. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

AMY E. BOENING:
In 1971, you organized the Greensboro National Bank. Could you tell us a little bit about this business venture?
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Oh, yes. Well, let me give you my experience again. Again, growing up in Ellerbe and then going to Greensboro and being around in North Carolina and so forth. The only way that I know how to explain this is that every building I went into, I saw white people. The blacks I saw were either operating elevators. You don't do that know, but we used to have somebody that actually operated the elevators. The only blacks I saw were people who were operating the elevators or sweeping the floors or coming in to buy something if it was a regular store or something like that. Banks, you walked in the banks, all the tellers were white, the officers were white. You go into the insurance company, this was the situation. One day I went into North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company building in Durham and I saw all of these black folks in there with suits on and women dressed up and everything and working. I said, "Boy, this is really something." Then I went in Mechanics and Farmers Bank and I saw the same thing. Then I came back to Greensboro and I didn't see that. I didn't see any of that. So I said, we have got to do something about that. So my first thought was a savings and loan association because I thought that would be cheaper. When I say cheaper, I mean, easier to organize. But Kenneth Lee beat me to that and he organized American Federal Savings and Loan Association. Then I said the next thing is a bank, so let's try a bank. To give you some idea how much nerve I guess I had - first of all, I didn't have any money and everybody told me that if you're going to organize a bank you've got to have some money. I said, "Well, we'll get some money." So I started talking to people and trying to get some interest in it. The controller's office is in Washington, DC, but the one for the region for North Carolina is in Richmond, Virginia. So any rate, once I got a group of people, a small group who were interested enough to agree to put up a little money, I went to Richmond. I caught the bus, went up there, transacted my business; I had to spend one night up there and then caught the bus and came on back. At any rate, they told us we needed $300,000 capital minimum in order to start. The next time I went back, it was $500,000. The third time, it was $700,000. I said, "We better hurry up and get started because at the rate we're going, we never will get it." Any rate, I finally pulled some people together. I told them that what we needed was 10 people, and I said that everybody has got to have at least $10,000 except me. The minimum you had to have according to the way we had it set up was $2,500 in order to be an organizer. I said I would come up with $2,500 somehow. So I got the other people and I borrowed some money, frankly, for mine and we put the money in an account. We started working on it and after a period of time, we were able to find a person from Richmond, Virginia, who was a vice president of the bank up there - a black person, you know, who was going to come in and run the bank for us. We did our offering circulars and started distributing the offering circulars. He called me and told me that he was not going to be able to come because of some things that had occurred at the bank.
AMY E. BOENING:
Things that had occurred at your bank?
HENRY ELL FRYE:
No, at his bank. I don't know exactly what they was, but it wasn't too long after that that they made him president of that bank. Okay. So we had to start all over again. We had to tear up those offering circulars, had to find somebody else. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Where were we?
AMY E. BOENING:
You were just saying that at that point you were determined to get a black person to run the bank.
HENRY ELL FRYE:
Yes, any rate, so when I found somebody who was really qualified to do it, he said, "Well, do you have the money to open the bank?" And of course I said no. We can't get the money until we know who is going to run the bank, because people are not going to subscribe to stock if they don't know who is going to be handling it. Again, to make another long story short, I talked with Tom Stores, who at that time was heading NCNB, which is now NationsBank. He told me that there was a retired person from his bank who would, he thought, would be happy to work with us in organizing the bank, who had a lot of great experience and that type of thing, that it would be worth talking to him and so I did. So I talked with Mr. Witherspoon, that was his name. He agreed to come in and help us with the bank as really a consultant is what it amounted to, but I think we named him vice president or something, I don't remember what title it was and to help train the person who was going to run the bank. So we finally found a person who was not near ready to run a bank but who at least had a good background and we brought that person in. Any rate, we decided to make me the president of the bank even though I'm a lawyer and that type of think, but with the idea of training this person to eventually become the president. So that's what we did and Mr. Wheeler who was the president of the bank in Durham, Mechanics and Farmers Bank that I had talked about, agreed to take the person down there for three or six months prior to opening the bank to give him some experience in a small bank because the guy came from Chemical Bank in New York. He did that. So any rate, we finally opened with me as president (and working without pay, incidentally) and finally got started. So it was $700,000 that we had to have in order to open the bank, that is in the amount of stock actually paid in. So the organizers came up with a little over $100,000 and then we got the rest of it from other people who subscribed. Among the people - in addition to individuals, three or four of the corporations in Greensboro actually bought some stock, really to help us out. I thought that it was a good thing that they were willing to do that because it was not, it really was not much of an investment from the standpoint of really making money. I think when they found out the number of people who had bought $100 worth, $1,000 worth, $500 worth and that type of thing, that it did have some broad support in the black community primarily, that others went along with it and bought some stock. So we opened it and I served as president for 10 years. Each year the income of the bank went up just a little bit, not much - very slow; but it was an increase, it was going in the right direction. And then, of course, since I left they have had some difficulties - bad loans, the economy, and all of those things; and I haven't heard from the last year whether they made money or not, I'm still waiting to hear.