The history behind one of Detroit's first African-American controlled banks

First Independence Bank launched in response to Detroit Riot of 1967

By Larry Spruill - Reporter, Natasha Dado

DETROIT - The Detroit Riot of 1967 was one of the most difficult times in the city's history, but because of it, many black businesses launched, including Detroit’s own First Independence Bank. 

First Independence Bank is the seventh-largest African-American controlled bank in the country. It is a staple in Downtown Detroit. 

Many call it Detroit’s bank. It started in the city and never left. 

CEO Kenneth Kelly talked about its humble beginnings. “The bank was born on May 14,1970,” said Kelly. 

The bank was founded  just three years after the Detroit Riot of 1967. Many call the riot the bloodiest incident in the long, hot summer of 1967.

There were many confrontations between black people and the Detroit Police Department at that time. Kelly said that was a tough time for the Motor City.

“First Independence Bank actually got its start in May of 1970. It was one of the outcomes of the 1967 riots that only some people know about. There were a group of 20-plus families that got together and thought we need to have an institution that allows us to have and demonstrate economic empowerment. A gentleman by the name of Don Davis who as a music producer called United Sound studio. He purchased the bank in 1980. He actually ran the bank as chairman and CEO from 1980 through his untimely death in 2014,” said Kelly. 

Kelly said since then, some things have changed. Today, the institution is an economic giant, but the values and the reason for the bank are still the same. 

“It was to be a beacon in the African American community, or at that point of time the black community. It was a source of pride for the community to know that they had a place where they could go to bank and someone who could reflect their values,” said Kelly. 

Kelly said that source of pride is still important. It is why the bank still believes in providing services and resources to the black community like managing accounts, mortgages, consumer education and even personal loans. 

Kelly wants people to know a few things about the bank. 

"The thing I would say when you look at First Independence Bank today, is that we have survived. We are the epitome of the Detroit grit. We survived the Great Recession. We survived the late '70s. We are the reflection of the people,” said Kelly.