A bank investing in small towns in Western Tennessee that have racist history to overcome
Brownsville, Tennessee is a small rural town of about ten thousand with a big history, and like many parts of the south, this history is a very racist one. The town is known for its many historical districts, and has successfully maintained many of the antebellum homes, reminiscent of a time when the cotton industry dominated West Tennessee and was primarily fueled by black slaves, and later, black laborers.
Because of the dominance of this industry, Jim Crow laws were heavily enforced in the Reconstruction era, to keep black bodies working for generational cotton plantations for little cost. Black people in Tennessee were disenfranchised after the turn of the century to black politicians from being elected to office, and a slur of lynchings at this time as well all served to keep black individuals down, across the state but particularly in rural towns like Brownsville. However, this history and legacy, reminiscent in the antebellum homes still well maintained in the town, didn’t motivate the flight of most of the black residents; the town’s demographics are still decidedly black, with the most recent census reporting that 60% of the occupants are African American.
For these reasons, we’re somewhat hesitant to recommend INSOUTH as a Better Banking Option, because it was founded in the area 150 years ago and almost certainly participated in the racist economy that thrived in this town for so long after the Civil War. Additionally, as they don’t have a published photo of their board members online, it’s impossible to tell if their board and management reflect the demographics of the town itself, or if it’s still owned and operated by white families that benefited from slavery and Jim Crow.
However, the commitment this bank has showed to the occupants of the towns they’re located in, and their very strong lending portfolio, make this a Better Banking Option we’d love to learn more about the history of. They have six branches in total, two in Brownsville, three in towns whose size is about the same Brownsville, and one in Memphis. In their mission statement, they pledge a commitment not only to their customers and the communities they serve, but to their employees and providing them with upward mobility in the company.
In areas where race discrimination is a large part of the history, it’s extremely important to invest in black communities to undo some of the damage done by that racism. Although it’s impossible to tell the exact demographics of the customers at INSOUTH, they do a significant amount of housing lending to low-and-moderate income households, with it making up 57% of their housing focus, which accounts for about a third of their lending. As it’s a still a rural, agricultural town, they also do a significant amount of small farm lending, as well as a large amount of small business lending, with it making up nearly 23% of their lending.
Although we’re still unsure about the goals and history of this bank regarding helping marginalized black populations, we’d still recommend them as a solid choice for anyone looking to invest in low-and-moderate-income households in rural towns in Western Tennessee. They do offer both mobile and online banking on their website, so it’s possible for anyone interested to move their money to this Better Banking Option.