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The Albemarle Bank of Elizabeth City

Posted on 08/06/2020 by Dr. Melissa Stuckey

old newspaper article announcing christmas savings club of the albemarle bankStanding on the corner of South Poindexter and East Fearing Streets and nestled within Elizabeth City’s historic district is a decorative red brick building with a little-known history. On August 14, 1920, this structure opened for business as the Albemarle Bank, the first African-American-owned bank in northeastern North Carolina. Building off a long tradition of mutual aid within African-American communities, African-American-owned banks provided their clientele with savings and loans opportunities along with respectful customer service. These goods and services were especially important during the era when black people in the United States endured segregation and other forms of legal discrimination. By 1924, North Carolina was home to ten African-American-owned banks.

The Albemarle Bank's organization began in 1919 with the coming together of a group of African American leaders from across the region. Dr. Ernest L. Hoffler, an Elizabeth City physician, was elected president and Peter W. Moore, president of the State Colored Normal School (today Elizabeth City State University) served as one of four vice-presidents. Among the twenty-five-member board of directors was Mrs. Mary E. Sills of Ahoskie, the first woman to serve on the board of directors of a bank in the entire state of North Carolina. The group acquired the property (the old Citizen’s Bank building) and then raised over $25,000 in capital to begin the enterprise.  

The bank opening ceremony took place at Mt. Lebanon A. M. E. Zion Church on Culpepper Street. The Honorable William Henry Harrison of Chicago, described in contemporary newspaper accounts as “the only negro superior court judge in America,” delivered the keynote address. A crowd, estimated to be five thousand in size, was also treated to music performed by a forty-seven-piece brass band from Norfolk. All depositors received a souvenir to commemorate the event. 

Historic Albemarle Bank building

The Albemarle Bank served its clientele for five years before its closure in 1925. It offered a popular Christmas Club savings program and customer appreciation days that celebrated different groups of depositors like farmers, women, children, churches, clubs, businesses and professionals. Unfortunately, the bank was forced to close its doors due to slow debt collection and financial irregularities. This disappointing end indicated the fragility of all banking institutions prior to the formation of the Federal Depositors Insurance Corporation (FDIC) in 1933. The former bank building has since housed several other businesses including a clothing store, a cupcake shop, and, now, a project management company.

The Albemarle Bank is just one establishment that spearheaded Black-owned businesses in Elizabeth City. Today, Elizabeth City is home to several businesses owned by Black men and women including the new Bam's Best Bites, Skie Art Lounge, Sammy's Barber Shop, Loft Gardens, Island Breeze Grill, and more! We invite you to spend a long weekend in Elizabeth City and explore the old and new of our coastal town.

Visit the old Albemarle Bank building (formerly known as Citizen's Bank) and 65 other historic sites in downtownElizabeth City with the self-guided Elizabeth City Main Street Commerical District Tour. Just a block away from the bank you can learn even more about the history of our region at the Musum of the AlbemarleFill up and hydrate at one of Elizabeth City's delicious downtown dining establishments where you can enjoy everything from southern-style burgers to burritos, to drinks at one of our two locally-owned coffeeshops, Muddy Water's Coffeehouse and The SweetEasy.
-Visit Elizabeth City

Dr. Melissa Stuckey headshot - Elizabeth City State University ProfessorDr. Melissa Stuckey has been assistant professor of African-American history at Elizabeth City State University since 2017. Her research interests center on the role of African American institutions in the struggle for civil rights. In 2019, Dr. Stuckey won over $500,000 from the National Parks Service and the Institute for Museum and Library Services to help fund an institute to collect, preserve, and share the history of African American education in Northeastern North Carolina. She is also completing a book about all-black towns in Oklahoma and serves as lead researcher and writer in the Beaufort County, South Carolina Lowcountry National Reconstruction History Center project. Dr. Stuckey earned her Ph.D. from Yale University.  

Looking for more things to do and historic places to see in Elizabeth City? Check out our Insider's Guide Blog for a local's perspective on why Elizabeth City is a great place to visit any time of year!

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