Wells Fargo and African American History

Last summer, we sent a researcher to comb archives and collections looking for Wells Fargo mentions in 19th century African American press Click here to learn about third-party website links. African American communities have always been present in America, but too often historically invisible. Historians have begun to search the record more deeply for African American history. In the West, African American communities quickly took shape after emancipation as Blacks moved in all directions.

Excerpt from "The Mirror of the Times" (click for larger image in a new window)From 1850-1857, African-Americans in California organized three consecutive conventions Click here to learn about third-party website links to dialogue about suffrage, school segregation, and other political issues. The first African-American newspaper of California, The Mirror of the Times, was published in San Francisco with the tag line, “Truth Crushed to the Earth Will Rise Again.” Unfortunately, only three issues of The Mirror survived.

One dated December 12, 1857 made the following notation: “The Petition Heads will be sent to all persons who are in want of them by Wells, Fargo & Co’s Express.” (“Petition Heads” referred to efforts to obtain signatures to challenge discriminatory laws.) Clearly, Black members of the community trusted Wells, Fargo & Co’s Express to help disseminate their civil rights communication. Subsequent African-American newspapers of California, The Pacific Appeal (1864-80) and The Elevator(1865-98) also utilized and promoted the services of Wells, Fargo, & Co’s Express. Editors of both papers directed subscribers to remit their payments through Wells Fargo.

This is consistent with Wells Fargo & Company 1888 Express Rules and Instructions to its Agents, issued by John. J. Valentine, Vice President and General Manager. Rule Number 9 stated: “Proper respect must be shown to all—let them be men, women, children, rich or poor, white or black.”

When reviewing these newspapers, it is dramatic how settled and prosperous California African-Americans Click here to learn about third-party website links were. Many owned property, held memberships in community organizations, and stayed politically aware. Articles discussed Mrs. Mary Pleasants Click here to learn about third-party website links who built a “palatial residence” for $25,000, and Wells Fargo employee William Robison’s property in Stockton and his work to promote education.

"The Elevator"—African-American newspaper of California (click for larger image in a new window)New history is being explored and written that demonstrates the permanence, as well as resiliency, of African American communities. And not just since slavery, but since Africans first came to North America Click here to learn about third-party website links in 1619. Historians are checking everything to see if there’s anything new that can help tell the full story. Wells Fargo historians are doing our small part, looking in the African American press for customers, employees, shipments and other transactions. It expands the historical record, sure, but it adds to all our stories.

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3 Responses to Wells Fargo and African American History

  1. Latrice Williams says:

    Is it true that Wells Fargo benefited from the Slave trade?

    • Charles Riggs Charles Riggs says:

      Thanks for your question, Ms. Williams. After years of research, Wells Fargo found no records that indicate it – or any entities it acquired before the Wachovia merger – had ever financed slavery, held slaves as collateral, owned slaves, or profited from slavery.

      With the Wachovia merger, Wells Fargo inherited hundreds of Wachovia’s predecessor financial institutions, including two that had extensive involvement in slavery. In 2005 Wachovia announced these findings and apologized for the role its predecessors played and renewed its commitment to preserve and promote the history of the African-American experience in our nation. Wells Fargo shares that commitment.

      As Wells Fargo integrates Wachovia’s businesses to form a new company, Wells Fargo will continue to affirm its long-standing opposition to slavery.

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