A piece of local Black history is finding a new home at the Black Archives of Mid-America. A mural depicting the founding and times of Douglass State Bank in Kansas City, Kansas, was removed from the building and brought to the second floor of the Black Archives.
Douglass State Bank was founded in 1947 by Henry Warren Sewing and was the first Black-run bank west of the Mississippi river. At the time it was one of only 14 Black-owned banks in the U.S.
The bank grew into one of the nation’s largest Black-owned banks and the bank’s executives wanted a painting showing their rich history, so in 1974 they commissioned local artist Hank Smith to paint the mural. Smith lived just around the corner from the bank and was viewed as the perfect person to depict the bank’s impact.
“This mural is a look back at the beginning of the Douglass State Bank,” said Leon D. Lemons who worked at the bank for 36 years before retiring in 1992 as Vice President.
The mural depicts Sewing, several employees and the people that they served as well as key moments in the bank’s history. The mural shows musicians at the parade held when the bank opened. The parade stretched from Lincoln High in Kansas City, MO all the way to 1314 N 5th Street in Kansas City, KS.
There are depictions of the bank’s expansion, the bank’s president with the governor of Kansas, and newspaper articles & photographs from the bank’s founding.
“Most people take [a Black-owned bank] for granted, but it opened the doors for thousands of people,” said Chester Warren who worked alongside Sewing for 32 years. “I feel honored to live and know Mr. Sewing and his work.”
The bank empowered many in the community and seven former employees left to become presidents of other banks.
Douglass State Bank was the Midwest’s only Black-owned bank and had become the 17th largest Black-owned bank in the U.S. before its closure. The bank had taken on more liabilities than the assets it had, so in 1983 the FDIC took over and transferred control to a largely new board of directors. The bank became Douglass National Bank until it closed in 2008.
Liberty Bank, a Black-owned banking chain based in Louisiana, took over the space until they moved to a new location at 4850 State Ave in November of last year. Liberty bank donated the mural to the Sewing family, who then donated the large painting to the Black Archives of Mid-America where it will be displayed on their second floor.