Winfred O. Bryson Jr., 87, founded bank to serve African-Americans

March 23, 2003|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Dr. Winfred O. Bryson Jr., the retired chairman of the Morgan State University economics department who founded a bank to serve the African-American community, died Tuesday of cancer at his Roland Park Place home. The former Wilson Park and Towson resident was 87.

A Morgan State economics professor from 1937 until 1984, he established Advance Federal Savings and Loan Association, now Advance Bank, in 1957, when Baltimore's African-American community had difficulty getting loans and establishing credit at mainstream, white-owned banks.

Born in Chattanooga, Tenn., he earned a bachelor's degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, a master's degree from Atlanta University and a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Recalled as an economics teacher who required his students to work diligently and rigorously, he was also chairman of the department of economics and business from 1947 to 1969 and again from 1971 to 1972.

"He was a thoughtful person, congenial, who had a high expectation level of excellence from his students. He wanted you to be good and not arrive in class with excuses," said Harbor Bank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Haskins Jr., a friend who sought Dr. Bryson's advice when he was a Morgan student. "He was not comfortable with mediocrity. He wanted you to be prepared."

In the 1940s, Dr. Bryson began fighting financial inequities in the life insurance industry. He found that large insurance companies would not write the same kinds of policies in the African-American community as they did in white neighborhoods. He excoriated this discrimination, which applied throughout the nation, in his privately printed 1948 dissertation, Negro Life Insurance Companies.

"Through his research and appearing as an expert witness before a federal investigative body, the barriers were immediately removed," said colleague Homer Favor, retired Morgan professor and dean.

A decade later, Dr. Bryson took on the issue of the reluctance of mainstream banks to serve black depositors and loan applicants. He found this exclusion abhorrent and founded Advance Savings and Loan in a West North Avenue rowhouse.

"This was perhaps the signal effort in opening up housing accommodation for people of color in geographical areas outside of their traditional boundaries," Dr. Favor recalled.

The savings institution also served black religious institutions.

"Dr. Bryson stands uniquely apart in the black community in its rise to fuller financial maturity," said the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, retired pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church. "Many black institutions who were refused by other banks exist today because of his willingness to trust the untrustable.

"Almost on any corner where a black church exists, Advance Federal has been a significant part of its life. He lent the money to them. While others thought they were a real problem, he saw them as an opportunity," Mr. Bascom said.

Friends said that Dr. Bryson spent most of his life in education and serving the financial needs of the African-American community.

"Those were his two passions," said John M. Hamilton, president of Advance Bank. "There are so many people in Baltimore who tell you that Dr. Bryson opened doors when they were closed. And he left behind a sound, thriving institution."

He served on the boards of the Afro American Newspaper Co., the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. and the Maryland Savings and Loan Service Corp., among numerous other positions. He also wrote scholarly articles.

His wife, the former Prima Lee Woodall, director of business education at Morgan, died last year.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. April 5 at St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church, Caroline and Oliver streets, where he was a parishioner.

Survivors include a sister, Eleanor Bryson Jackson of Dayton, Ohio; and five nephews and three nieces.

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