DURHAM., N.C. (7/16/14)--At the Durham A-Z exhibit in the Museum of Durham History, every letter tells a story, sometimes a few stories, including the letter C, which stands for ... you guessed it ... credit unions.
North Carolina was home to the first credit union in the South--and, of course, there's a story behind that too (The Durham News July 15). In the early 1900s the farmers in the community of Lowe's Grove were paid just once a year, at harvest time. In need of credit to keep them flush throughout the year, the farmers pooled $29 and partnered with Durham banker and philanthropist John Sprunt Hill in 1916 to open the Lowe's Grove CU.
African-Americans also faced challenges in obtaining credit in the Jim Crow South, and credit unions provided an answer in North Carolina. At one point, North Carolina had more African-American-based credit unions than the rest of the United States combined.
One of those credit unions was Mount Vernon Baptist Church CU, which continues to serve its 233 members today. Despite having just $191,000 in assets, Mount Vernon CU makes loans to help its members gain access to cars, homes and education. "Their commitment just amazes me," Katie Spencer, the Museum of Durham History's executive director, told the Carolinas Credit Union League (In the Loop June 19).
That credit union tradition of serving minorities lives on today among Durham credit unions, as Latino CU opened in 2000 and grew to 50,000 members and $100 million in assets by 2010. It serves as a model for credit unions serving immigrant populations.
Self-Help CU, which opened in 1984 with $77 from a bake sale, also serves as model for other credit unions. Self-Help CU is leader in community development and lending to low-income borrowers. It has provided more than $6.4 billion to 87,000 families, individuals and organizations across the United States.