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African American Studies

University of Mississippi

Banking on Freedom: Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal

Banking on Freedom: Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal By Shennette Garrett-Scott, associate professor of history and African American Studies

COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2019

Banking on Freedom is the first full-length history of finance capitalism that centers black women and the banking institutions and networks they built from the eve of the Civil War to the Great Depression. Between 1888 and 1930, African Americans opened more than a hundred banks and thousands of other financial institutions. In Banking on Freedom, Shennette Garrett-Scott explores this rich period of black financial innovation and its transformative impact on U.S. capitalism through the story of the St. Luke Bank in Richmond, Virginia: the first and only bank run by black women. Black women played essential roles in shaping U.S. capitalism, political economy, and society.

Find an excerpt from the book and a Reader’s Guide>>

Watch an interview with the author about Banking on Freedom

Awards and Distinctions

Winner, Association of Black Women Historians 2019 Letitia Woods Brown Prize for Best Book in Black Women’s History

Shortlisted, Hagley Museum & Library and the Business History Conference 2020 Hagley Prize for Best Book in Business History

Winner, Southern Historical Association 2020 Bennett H. Wall Award for Best Book in Southern Business and Economic History

Winner, Organization of American Historians 2020 Darlene Clark Hine Award for Best Book in African American Women’s and Gender History

Praise for Banking on Freedom

Shennette Garrett-Scott’s compelling and highly original account demonstrates that, for black people, banks were more than financial institutions. In the hands of black women, capital accumulation, credit, and insurance became community building practices, mutual aid, strategies for collective survival, and sources of contestation. Banking on Freedom offers a new perspective on the entire community and the nation.
Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original

Recovering the important and active role black women have played in the development of modern American capitalism, Shennette Garrett-Scott’s Banking on Freedom is a paradigm-shifting work that stands to make a monumental contribution to the field and is certain to inspire future generations of scholars.
Tiffany Gill, author of Beauty Shop Politics: African American Women’s Activism in the Beauty Industry

Moving fluidly from the change purse to the bank vault, Banking on Freedom offers the first full accounting of the financial sector, womanhood, and Afro-America simultaneously transformed. Rich and brilliant.
N. D. B. Connolly, author of A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida

A beautifully written, comprehensive, and highly original study of black women’s savvy business acumen in the aftermath of slavery through the early twentieth century. Garrett-Scott should be commended for boldly modeling just how gender and race shape capitalism and finance in ways few scholars have addressed.
Daina Ramey Berry, author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to the Grave, in the Building of a Nation

Banking on Freedom is a major contribution to the history of US capitalism. It will undoubtedly inspire new scholarship. It pushes readers to reframe black women’s fight for economic justice in the most expansive ways.
Keona K. Ervin, Journal of African American History