On Feb. 16, 1857, abolitionist, author lecturer and statesman Frederick Douglass was elected president of Freedman’s Saving and Trust Company, also known as the Freedman’s Savings Bank. The financial institution was a private corporation chartered by the U.S. government to guide the economic development of the newly freed African Americans after the Civil War.

Douglass would accept the post at the end of March 1874, as the bank was in dire straights, with distrusting consumers, debt and corruption. Initially, the bank saw notable successes as a leading institution of African Americans who wanted a place to invest their money to ensure their financial stability for life after the U.S. slave era, however, bad investments and wrongdoing on the part of previous leadership at the bank led to its downfall, closing its doors the same year. Today, the financial company’s archives are used as a valuable collection of information about the African American community and socio-economic life in the aftermath of emancipation.

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