Greene, Richard Thaddeus Sr.
Richard Thaddeus Greene Sr.
During Richard T. Greene Sr.'s twenty-eight-year career as head of New York City's Carver Federal Savings Bank, he accomplished much more than building the largest black-owned financial institution in the United States. By focusing the bank's investment policies on single-family homes, small rental units, and churches, Greene also helped build pride and stability within New York's African-American community, and the bank he directed became an important symbol of black solidarity, opportunity, and success.
Having grown up in the South during a time when options and opportunities for black people were severely limited, Greene was strongly committed to supporting African-American economic development. He also believed in the importance of sharing success through programs such as the Carver Scholarship Fund, which has helped dozens of students each year achieve the goal of higher education. In addition to his demanding banking career, Greene also became a beloved community leader, serving in cultural and business organizations and in his church.
Grew Up in Charleston
Richard Thaddeus Greene was born on July 18, 1913, in Charleston, South Carolina. He was the younger of two sons of Richard D. Greene and Martha Black Greene. Deep in the heart of the segregated South, Charleston was a racially mixed city with a large and active black population. African Americans had successfully protested racial discrimination on the city's streetcars as early as 1867, and the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), founded in 1916, is one of the nation's oldest.
As part of a working-class family, the young Greene soon learned that everyone had to contribute. He first earned money by shining shoes, and, when he was old enough, he began rising at five in the morning to deliver newspapers. It was while working on his paper route for Charleston's News and Courier that Greene first began developing his business skills, as he both increased his income and helped his friends by expanding his routes and hiring other children to work for him.
Greene's father was a carpenter whose work frequently took him far from home. During his father's long absences, his mother, Martha, raised her children as a single parent. She developed close relationships with her boys and was determined that they would have the best opportunities she could provide for them. Because she felt that the segregated public school system had little to offer black students, she enrolled her children in a Catholic elementary school. When it was time for Richard to attend high school, his mother sent him to Avery Institute, an African-American high school that had been founded in 1867, when newly freed blacks were working to build a more just society after the Civil War. Avery was a private school, and its students came from Charleston's wealthiest and most influential black families. Martha Greene worked hard and made many personal sacrifices to pay her son's tuition, because she believed that Avery would provide him with both an excellent education and pride in his African-American identity.
Earned Business Degree
Greene did well in his studies at Avery and soon began planning to continue his education—though his family had no money for tuition. After considering several colleges, he chose Hampton University on Virginia's Chesapeake Bay, the only school that offered him the opportunity to pay his entire tuition by working on campus. At Hampton, Greene studied business administration, earning his bachelor's degree in 1938. He also met a young Hampton nursing student named Virginia Lea, who he would later marry.
Though his brother had remained in Charleston, breaking barriers there by becoming a member of the city's police force, Greene believed that he would have greater opportunities for advancement by moving north. After a brief period of working at an insurance company in Richmond, Virginia, he took a job in Philadelphia, as assistant treasurer for Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust. Greene's early banking career was cut short when the United States entered World War II and he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941.
Greene was stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, where he worked training new recruits. Like many U.S. institutions in the 1940s, the army was racially segregated, and Fort Huachuca was one of the major training bases for African-American troops, including the all-black 93rd Infantry. Greene remained in the army until the war ended in 1945, rising to the rank of captain.
Began Work at Carver
After leaving the army, Greene returned to the world of business. He moved to New York City, where he took a job as business manager for Associated Publishers, one of the oldest black-owned businesses in the United States. In 1958 he went to work at Interstate United Newspapers, a group of black newspapers that joined forces to broaden their advertising base. At Interstate United, Greene served as business manager, secretary, and national advertising representative.
Greene's work in African-American media businesses drew the attention of a New York businessman named Joseph Davis. Davis was president of Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association, a black-owned bank that had opened in 1949 in New York's Harlem neighborhood. Recognizing Greene's expertise in business and management, Davis offered him the job of executive assistant in 1960. After a year as the president's assistant, Greene was made manager of Carver's first branch, which opened in 1961 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a largely African-American neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
At a Glance …
Born Richard Thaddeus Greene on July 18, 1913, in Charleston, SC; died August 3, 2006, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Richard D. (a carpenter) and Martha Black Greene; married M. Virginia Lea (a registered nurse), 1942; children: Cheryll Y., Richard T. Jr. Military service: U.S. Army, 1941-45, became captain. Religion: Presbyterian. Education: Hampton University, BA, business administration, 1938; postgraduate work at New York University's graduate school of business administration, University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, and American Savings and Loan Institute.
Career: Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust, assistant treasurer, 1938-41; Associated Publishers Inc., business manager, 1945-58; Interstate United Newspapers, secretary and business manager, 1958-60; Carver Federal Savings Bank, New York, executive assistant, 1960, manager of Brooklyn branch office, 1961, assistant vice president, 1963-66, vice president, 1966-68, executive vice president, 1968-69, president and director, 1969-95, chair of the board of directors, 1995-97.
Selected memberships: Omega Psi Phi; Harlem Business Alliance; Apollo Theater Foundation, board member; Harlem Urban Development Corporation, director; One Hundred Black Men Inc.
Selected awards: Black Bank President Award, Bedford-Stuyvesant Area Chamber of Commerce, 1972; Economic Development Award, Caribbean American Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 198(?); Certificate of Merit, Assembly of the State of New York, 1991; Honorary Doctor of Commercial Science Degree, St. John's University, Jamaica, NY, 1992; Roy Wilkins Humanitarian Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), 1994.
As part of Carver's management, Greene recognized that a bank can represent stability and success to its community. Carver, as one of very few African-American banks, was an especially important symbol to its black customers, and Greene developed and expanded the bank's role in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood so that his Carver branch became a neighborhood social center where everyone felt welcome.
Rose to Bank President
Greene continued this policy when he returned to Carver's central office in Harlem to take the positions of executive vice president in 1968 and president in 1969. Having grown up in a working-class family with little extra money, he believed that the small deposits of working-class people were just as important to the survival of the bank as investments from wealthy institutions. He also had a strong commitment to customer service, believing that every customer deserved respect and personal attention. As bank president, he demonstrated his own dedication to this principle by placing his office on the bank's main floor so he would be visible and accessible to his customers.
Greene served as president and director of Carver for nearly three decades, building it into the nation's largest African-American financial institution with many branches and thousands of customers. Carver had been founded by several Harlem business and church leaders to serve the city's black and Caribbean citizens who had often been disregarded by white-owned banks, and Greene never lost sight of that goal. He steered Carver to success by following a conservative investment policy that kept the bank grounded in its community. Rather than seeking large gains through risky investments, Greene focused the bank's resources on lending to one- to four-family homes, increasing the bank's stability while helping people of color achieve home ownership. Another of Greene's pioneering banking practices was his recognition that churches were sound financial institutions that strengthened the community. He became one of the first bankers to extend credit to churches wishing to expand and develop their facilities. These proved to be sound investments that, in turn, strengthened Carver.
Made Bank Part of Community
As he had done at the Bedford-Stuyvesant branch, Greene continued to build Carver's role within the Harlem community. He set up the Carver Scholarship Fund in 1983, through which the bank awarded small grants to more than forty college students per year. He cofounded the Harlem Business Alliance, and he made Carver a part of the New York City Partnership, an economic development association for the city's five boroughs. In 1989 and 1991 Greene was appointed to be director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of New York, which oversees savings and loan institutions.
Greene presided over a number of changes and crises during his career as bank president. In 1986 Carver Federal Savings and Loan Association was chartered as a savings bank by the federal government and became Carver Federal Savings Bank. In 1992 the bank suffered a severe setback when an electrical fire destroyed its central office in Harlem. During the four years it took to rebuild its headquarters, loyal Carver customers banked at a small, temporary office near the main branch.
The bank faced another challenge during the 1990s, when the U.S. government began pressuring all financial institutions to end racially discriminatory lending practices. Under this pressure, banks began to seek out customers of color, suddenly competing with the minority-owned banks that had always served them. In hopes of boosting Carver's business, Greene decided that the bank should offer shares of stock for sale to the public. He worked hard to convince more than half of the bank's forty-four thousand depositors to vote for the stock sale, and in 1994 Carver became the first African-American bank to trade on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotient (NASDAQ) stock exchange.
At the age of eighty-two, Greene retired as president of Carver Federal Savings Bank in 1995, though he served as chair of the board of directors from 1995 to 1997. His commitment to the growth of African-American business and the development of the African-American community had made him a beloved figure, both in the black cultural and political center of Harlem and in the borough of Queens, where he and his family made their home. He remained active for many years after his retirement, volunteering at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Queens and in community organizations such as the board of the Apollo Theater. An appropriate tribute to Greene's place at the heart of his community can be found at Harlem's famous Sylvia's Soul Food Restaurant, where a special plaque marks the table where Greene, president of the largest black-owned bank in the country, ate lunch every day. Greene died of heart failure on August 3, 2006, in Brooklyn.
Meffert, John W., Sherman E. Pyatt, and Avery Research Center, Charleston, South Carolina, Arcadia Publishing, 2000.
Black Enterprise, August 1995, p. 108-15; June 1, 1996.
Jet, September 4, 2006, p. 18.
New Voice of New York (Jamaica, NY), February 17, 1999, p. 28.
New York Amsterdam News, February 17, 2000, p. 8; August 10, 2006, p. 33-35.
New York Beacon, August 17, 2006. p. 4.
New York Times, October 16, 1994, p. A4; August 9, 2006.
Information for this profile was obtained through inter views with Richard T. Greene Jr. on March 13, 2008, and Cheryll Y. Greene on March 15, 2008.
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