African American Heritage

The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company

Remarks of Reginald Washington
National Archives and Records Administration
February 23, 2001

Good Afternoon!

I'd like to thank Senator Reid for that introduction and also thank the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for inviting me here today to participate in the announcement of the release of the Freedman's Bank CD. It is indeed a pleasure to be here.

The Freedman's Savings and Trust Company, popularly known as the Freedman's Bank, was incorporated by Congress on March 3, 1865, and the bank maintained some 37 offices in 17 states, including the District of Columbia.

Because of mismanagement, abuse, fraud, and other economic factors, the Freedman's Bank failed in 1874, leaving tens of thousands of its depositors in economic ruin. The original records of Freedman's Bank are housed at the National Archive facility in College Park, MD, and are available on microfilm at College Park and the National Archives Building downtown.

While the failure of the Freedman's Bank was tragic and left many African Americans with feelings of distrust of the American banking system, the records created by the bank are a rich source of documentation for black family research for the period immediately following the American Civil War.

What makes these records so important are the thousands of signature cards that contain personal data about the individual depositors. In addition to the names and ages of depositors, the files can contain their places of birth, residence, and occupations; names of parents, spouses, children, brothers, and sisters; and in some cases, the names of former slave owners. The records however, are not indexed; thus making research in them time consuming and frustrating.

While the names and other personal information about individual depositors is extremely important, it is the stories behind the names that have their descendants combing through rolls of microfilm and other unfilmed records searching for the keys to unlock the mysteries to who they are and where they have come from.

Stories that reveal struggle, sacrifice, courage and determination. Stories that must be told to their children and left for future generations.

The National Archives applauds the efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for making the records of the Freedman's Bank more accessible and easier to use through the development of a database searchable by name. We hope the Church's efforts will encourage other institutions and individuals to embark on similar projects to assist in bringing the stories of the African American family to life.

Thank you.