Civil Rights Tour: Housing - Industrial Bank of Washington

2000 11th Street NW

As African American families began fleeing the South during the Great Migration, they discovered in Washington great opportunities in education and employment. However, finding capital to buy a home or open a business was another matter, even when they were able to overcome discriminatory real estate practices.

In 1913 laborer and entrepreneur John Whitelaw Lewis founded the Industrial Savings Bank at 11th and U streets NW, opening up financial opportunities for African Americans.  When it opened, Industrial Bank (designed by Black architect Isaah T. Hatton) was the only Black-owned bank in the city. Nineteen ministers immediately moved their churches’ funds there, encouraging their congregants to do the same.

In 1932, Industrial Bank, along with about 10,000 other US banks, was forced to close due to the national financial crisis that caused the Great Depression.

Two years later, Jesse H. Mitchell, a Howard University Law School graduate and former vice president at Industrial, reopened it as the Industrial Bank of Washington. Despite the losses they’d suffered when the bank closed, investors quickly reappeared, and Industrial thrived. Industrial Bank contributed to the growth of Washington’s Black middle class by offering mortgages and business lending and by hiring African Americans when white banks refused to do so well into the mid-20th century.

In the early 1970s, 94 percent of the bank’s mortgage loans stayed in the District, while only 39 percent of mortgages by DC’s biggest lender, Riggs National Bank, covered District properties. In addition, Riggs and other white-owned banks lent mostly west of Rock Creek Park, while Industrial focused on areas where African Americans lived.

Mitchell's son B. Doyle Mitchell took over the bank's leadership in 1954. The bank remains in operation today.