South LA

Remembering Black trailblazer Onie B. Granville

Learn how this historic Black-owned bank made a difference in 1960s Los Angeles.

"A black and white photo of Granville (third from the left) and friends at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Bank of Finance."

Leimert Park resident Natalie Mallard has many fond childhood memories of her great uncle. She remembers seeing him get dressed up in a tuxedo before attending fancy dinners and meetings. She can recall watching him travel all around the country, venturing back and forth from Sacramento to Washington D.C. But as a child, Mallard didn’t yet realize the full magnitude of her great uncle Onie B. Granville’s impacts.

Granville is the man behind the first Black-owned bank on the West Coast.

“I had no idea what kind of family I was in and what was coming together for millions of people in Los Angeles and across California,” Mallard said.

But today Mallard, one of Granville’s last living relatives, shares his legacy in any way she can.

“I want to get this story out, and I never want it to be forgotten,” Mallard said.

Granville was born in Navarro County, Texas on June 28, 1916. After high school, he received his B.A. degree in 1942 at Tillotson College in Austin, which is now known as Huston-Tillotson University. Granville later moved to Los Angeles and attended USC, where he did post-graduate work in real estate appraising, banking, and finance.

As a prominent broker and president of the African American Consolidated Realty Board in the 1960s, Granville saw firsthand how housing crises and redlining affected the African American community. He often struggled to get loans for his Black clients.

Black Americans have faced numerous generational financial burdens over the decades — banks were notorious for denying Black residents home mortgages and small business loans. They often appraised homes owned by Black Americans, on average, less than homes owned by white Americans.

Seeing the need and the injustice that caused it, Granville went to work and opened the first Black-owned and operated bank west of Kansas City. Granville’s Bank of Finance was granted a state charter and first opened on Nov. 16, 1964, at 2651 South Western Avenue in Los Angeles. Then, the bank was one of the only providers of loans and checking accounts to Black business owners.

The Bank of Finance helped people of color secure these loans, provided letters of credit for Black businesses and withheld tax depositions. It also offered a range of services such as checking accounts, savings accounts, certificates of deposit and real estate, vehicle, construction and personal loans.

"A black and white photo of the exterior of Granville's Bank of Finance."

Mallard said that Granville’s bank had a positive impact on the community.

“So many people were able to have homes [and] to move west of Western Avenue and not to lose their home to others and even made a way for them as a bank,” she said.

Though the Bank of Finance was sold to the Korean American bank corporation Wilshire Bank in 1984, in the 20 years of its existence it served the needs of the Black community in L.A.

Mallard said that many community members have told her and her family about the ways in which Granville helped them when no other bank would.

Four years after starting the Bank of Finance, Granville later relocated briefly to Portland, Oregon where he started another bank, the Freedom Bank of Finance. But his initiative did not stop there.

Granville also became a co-founder and vice president of the West Adams Community Hospital in 1970. Soon after, he founded the Southern California Minority Capital Corporation (SCMCC), a publicly held small business investment company for people of color with an initial capitalization of $1 million. This program was in collaboration with USC’s business administration department.

Granville speaks about the SCMCC in an article from the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, which was originally published on Oct. 20, 1971.

“We’ll work with the minority entrepreneur,” Granville said in the article, “to determine whether he could succeed or expand or could add a new operation to his existing business.”

In 2021, white families had nearly eight times the wealth of Black families, according to Federal Reserve Bank data. Today, there are 19 Black-owned banks in the U.S.

Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, a clinical associate professor of social work at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work spoke about what it was like for Black business owners to stay afloat during the 1960s.

“What we do know is that Black businesses met a lot of the walls that were put into place within the banking industry to oppress Black-owned businesses,” said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald added that times were quite difficult for Black business owners as any attempt to increase their economic wealth seemed to be destroyed by banking practices that stem even from the times of slavery.

“Blacks who were attempting to do any sort of banking ran into that oppressive wall that was put into place,” Fitzgerald said, “a wall that’s been in place since slavery.”

“So when you have an industry that is rooted in oppression, rooted in subjugation of individuals and built up on the backs of enslaved people,” Fitzgerald said, “we can’t divorce that from what we’re seeing today.”

Granville’s vision for equitable banking predated the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the sale, rental, financing or advertising of housing. Though it passed in 1968 as part of the Civil Rights Act, Black Americans still are more routinely denied loans from banks than white Americans. Being denied mortgages and loans can make it that much more difficult for individuals to amass wealth.

“We think about representation, having these Black-owned businesses are symbolic,” said Fitzgerald. “They are signs of hope. They are signs of aspiration. They’re signs of a promise of a possible future for those who are watching.”

He added that Granville was not only a role model for those around him, but also an institutional guide for other Black entrepreneurs to come.

Granville died at age 82 in Los Angeles on Sept. 21, 1998. To keep his memory alive, Mallard donated her uncle’s archives to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016.

"A photo of Leah Jackson, Barbara Boyd, Natalie Mallard, and Velma Marshall smiling as a group at a museum Donor Reception."

Bill Pretzer, the senior curator of history at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, helped Mallard preserve artifacts from her great uncle’s lifetime by acquiring them and adding them to the museum’s online inventory collection.

Pretzer said Granville’s trailblazing efforts provided new opportunities to people of color in the U.S.

“It’s a really good example of the impact of financial institutions on African Americans,” he said. “Both simply as homeowners and consumers, but also as entrepreneurs.”

Pretzer also said that entrepreneurship has been a long tradition in African American communities. Yet, the history of business in the U.S. hasn’t adequately documented these untold stories from Black history, which he said the museum works to change.

“The artifacts and the oral history, such as Natalie Mallard’s reminiscences of her great uncle, are so important in doing African American history and weaving it into that existing narrative of business life in Los Angeles,” he said, “which has been written time and again but Onie was never a part of it, despite his importance.”

Mallard also understands this importance, as she said she will continue to share her uncle’s story and carry on his legacy.

If Granville were still alive today, Mallard said she would share her gratitude toward her late great uncle.

“I’m just so grateful that I’m your great niece and I want to get this story out,” she said. “And I never want it to be forgotten.”