Black History: Special Delivery!!
Richard R. Wright, Sr. (1855-1947) was born enslaved near Dalton, GA. Following the Civil War, he and his mother moved to Atlanta, GA. There he enrolled in Storrs School. Storrs was founded by the American Missionary Society to educate the children of free blacks. Storrs would eventually become Atlanta University. Union General Oliver Otis Howard visited the school in 1868. While there, he asked the students if they had any thoughts they would like him to share with the North. Wright replied, “Sir, tell them we are rising.” Wright was the valedictorian of Atlanta University’s first graduating class in 1876. He also married Lydia Elizabeth Howard in 1876. Together they had nine children.
Wright founded the Georgia State Industrial College For Colored Youth in 1891. The college was located in Savanah, GA. Today the school is known as Savannah State University. Wright served as the university’s first president from 1891 – 1921. By the end of Wright’s time as president, the college had grown its enrollment to 400+ students, a significant increase from the 8 students who entered the school in 1891.
In addition to his education related pursuits, Wright also was a founding member of the American Negro Academy in 1928, which was a leading organization of African American intellectuals at that time. In 1898, Wright took a leave of absence from the college and became a commissioned major in the U.S. Army. He also was appointed as the first African American paymaster for the Army, making him the Army’s highest ranking African American officer during World War I. Wright retired from Georgia State in 1921 at the age of 67. He then moved to Philadelphia and opened the Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust. At the time, it was the only African American owned and operated bank in the North. It was also the first African American Trust Company. He was motivated to open the bank after his daughter was assaulted by a bank employee. Despite difficult times during the Great Depression, the bank continued to grow slowly. The bank was sold to a group of African American investors in 1957. At the time of the sale, the bank had asset of $5.5 million dollars.
In 1927, Wright and C.C. Spaulding along with 70 other black bankers founded the National Negro Banker’s Association. It was the first organization of black owned banks in the United States.
Richard Robert Wright, Sr. died in Philadelphia in 1947. He was 94.