40 Years of Freedom

The Old Liberty Bank Photo

Perhaps it was an audacious aspiration or a daring dream, but 40 years ago, two local men—one a barely 30-year-old bank officer and the other a thirty-something university president—decided that Black folk in and around New Orleans needed a bank they could consider their own; they wanted to open a world of possibilities to the city’s African-American citizenry that seemed to still elude them in the mainstream financial marketplace even as they began to experience increased social and political power.

Surely, it was no coincidence that the word “liberty” was chosen as the name, because for four decades now, Liberty Bank has been providing its customers—everyday men and women, small business owners and parents of college students—with paths to financial freedom.

In 1972, when Alden McDonald started Liberty Bank, he had been a bank officer for about six years—one of just a few Blacks in Louisiana’s banking industry. His relative inexperience or the fact that there were only a handful of Blacks in banking and none that owned banks, at least not in New Orleans, didn’t stop local leaders, including Dr. Norman Francis, from encouraging McDonald to step out on his own.

Though he thought it would be an “interesting opportunity,” McDonald has admitted to not being so certain back then that he had what it took to run a bank.

“I didn’t know whether I was prepared to run a bank,” McDonald once said in a Tribune interview. “No one else had walked that plank.”

Because of their foresight and leadership, Liberty Bank CEO & President Alden J. McDonald and its longtime board chairman Dr. Norman Francis have been chosen as The New Orleans Tribune’s 2012 People of the Year.

While the idea might have been a little daunting for McDonald at first, the reality is that he was considering opening a Black-owned bank in New Orleans just as Black-owned banks were enjoying growth across the country. Beginning in the early 1960s, Black leaders and businessmen throughout America saw the same thing happening in their big cities and small towns that McDonald and Dr. Francis saw happening here payday money center title loans – a Black community growing increasingly dissatisfied with inequality and the chance to further the progress being made in the social and political arenas through the ownership of economic institutions. Liberty Bank was one of 42 African American-owned banks to open in the U.S. between 1962 and 1979, according to the National Bankers Association. And, if anyone really ever harbored any misgivings about whether a Black-owned bank acutely aware of the needs and concerns of its largely minority customer base could succeed in New Orleans or whether Alden McDonald and Dr. Francis were the right leaders for the undertaking, it’s safe to say those reservations have long been cast aside today.

On Dec. 8, McDonald along with Dr. Francis, celebrated four decades of Liberty Bank with a special holiday musical extravaganza featuring the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as musicians Kermit Ruffins and Irvin Mayfield, vocalists Stephanie Jordan and Leah Chase, and choirs from Dillard and Xavier. It was a grand celebration, fitting for a financial institution that has played an important role in the social, civic and political fabrics of New Orleans’ tapestry. And McDonald says he is proud of the role Liberty Bank has played in the lives of New Orleanians over the last 40 years.

Dr. Norman Francis

He says: “When I look back at 40 years and what we have done over the 40 years . . . providing financial access to a community that did not necessarily have full access available to them; bringing to the marketplace new ideas and new products . . . and the homeownership piece is something we are very proud of.”

Dr. Francis is equally as proud and excited about the bank’s milestone.

“Forty years ago, we had a dream to do something special in New Orleans,” he said in a printed statement. “We started a community bank with a focus on an under-served population. Today, we serve thousands of customers in six states.”