How Alvin Boutte founded America’s largest Black-owned bank and helped MLK, Mandela

Alvin J. Boutte Sr. Photo: Chicago Defender

Alvin J. Boutte Sr. became the owner of one of the biggest Black-owned banks in the United States. Prior to his death, he was the co-founder and CEO of Independence Bank.

He developed a knack for entrepreneurship during his college days when he established a business to serve the needs of his coursemates and other students. He named the business laundry pick and pay, where his mates brought their clothes to be washed for a fee.

In 1964, he started the Independence Bank of Chicago with George Johnson, Marshall Bynum, Sr., Henry Forte, Edward Boschell, Henry Hervey, John Skunstadter, Morris Polk and William Scanlon, with an initial investment of $800,000. Boutte put up the bank to attend to the needs of the Chatham Avalon community and saw to it that their customers’ aspirations were met. His bank was once America’s largest black-owned bank.

Boutte was inspired into entrepreneurship by his colleagues at school. Born on October 10, 1929, in Lake Charles, he had his basic education at Sacred Heart Grammar and High School. That is where all his siblings attended school during the wake of the Great Depression, according to Chicago Defender.

He continued his education under the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament at Xavier University in New Orleans, Los Angeles on a basketball scholarship. He met his future wife, Barbara Gonzaque, while in university. She was studying music.  

Though Alvin studied pharmacy, his interest was in entrepreneurship and working for himself. He was not in this game alone. During his university years, there were others like John Stroger, Wilford Bonner, Ernest Morial, Richard Gumble and Talifero Johnson who shared the same vision.

He placed his entrepreneurship zeal on hold to serve in the U.S. army where he graduated from the Officer’s Candidate School. He served in Germany as a Captain. Boutte was honorably discharged after his service and moved to Chicago with his family.

He rekindled his entrepreneurship drive when he arrived in Chicago. He purchased the Lakeside Drug Store with a loan he secured from the Sealtest Dairy Corporation. He soon expanded the one store into a chain of stores at 47th & Lake Park Avenue, Madison & Western, 79th & Cottage Grove and 79th & Michigan Avenue. He brought in other young business-minded individuals like George Johnson, John Johnson, Anderson Schweich, Marshall Bynum Sr., Neil Harris and others.

Boutte was also passionate about the civil rights movement at the time. He funded Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He brought together Chicago’s African-American business leaders and raised $55,000.

He was instrumental in bringing Nelson Mandela to Chicago in the summer of 1993 to raise money for his ANC political organization after he was freed. He gave money to bail King and others when they were arrested. He footed the medical bills of widows and children of slain leaders.

He had four children and was survived by his wife, Barbara. He died in 2012.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: January 20, 2023


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