WASHINGTON -- Leaders of this city's black community are threatening to call for a boycott of white banks in the wake of a Washington Post series on racial discrimination in lending.
Local chapters of the NAACP and some area churches have given bankers two weeks to hammer out an agreement to increase the level of lending and the number of branches in minority neighborhoods.
The black leaders say they will urge blacks to withdraw their funds from banks if no agreement is reached.
$8 Billion in Deposits
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People says that black residents, businesses, and churches have $8 billion in deposits at local banks, representing about 18% of all customer deposits in the area.
The Washington Post study of lending data found that banks and thrifts discriminate against black communities by providing fewer home loans and bank branches in those areas.
Although the newspaper found that Signet Bank had one of the best lending records in minority areas, the coalition targeted the bank for protests because of a statement by Signet's chairman, Robert Freeman. He was quoted in The Post as saying that plush branch offices would be intimidating to minorities.
"That's a put-down," said Janice Washington, regional director of the NAACP. "It's very offensive."
Apology for Comment
Mr. Freeman has publicly apologized, saying he was quoted out of context. "The words I used, when interpreted separately from the rest of the interview, left an impression that was not my intent. I was as offended by its inference as were many of you. It does not represent my views or those of Signet Bank."
The group is giving bankers two weeks to meet with the coalition and come to an agreement to address racial bias.
If group leaders are not satisfied with the content of those meetings, they will call for blacks to withdraw their funds and place them in Washington's two black-owned institutions, Industrial Bank of Washington and Independence Federal Savings Bank.
Pledges by Acquirers
But regardless of the group's actions, loans to low- and moderate-income neighborhoods in the city will increase. Seeking D.C. government approval of its pending acquisition of American Security Bank, NationsBank Corp. has promised to make more than $500 million in such loans in the next 10 years.
The pledge came just days after NationsBank's rival, First Union Corp., agreed to increase its lending in minority neighborhoods to $200 million in return for approval of its own acquisition of First American Bank of Washington.
Meanwhile, Washington bankers questioned the group's proposed actions.
"I am confident that anyone considering removing funds would look at a bank's individual record," said Dave Palombi, spokesman for Riggs Bank. "For the second year in a row, we have had a higher percentage of white applicants denied than minority applicants."
If the banks do not comply, banking analysts said the impact could have broader implications.
"Washington, as the capital city, is looked upon by the nation," said Karen Shaw, president of the Institute for Strategy Development, a Washington-based consulting firm.
The NAACP's Ms. Washington said while her organization is concentrating on the Washington area, it plans to launch an investigation of racial bias in Maryland.
Mr. Nielsen is an intern at the Institute on Political Journalism.