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Robert James

Bank president and entrepreneur Robert Earl James was born on November 21, 1946, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to Annie Mae and Jimmie James, Sr. James graduated from L.J. Rowan High School in 1964, after which he received his B.A. degree in accounting from Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1968, James became one of the first African Americans to be accepted into Harvard Business School.

After obtaining his M.B.A. in 1970, James became President of Carver State Bank in Savannah, Georgia, one of the oldest African American-owned commercial banks. During his thirty-year tenure as President and CEO of Carver State Bank, James pioneered the re-development of Atlanta’s inner city as well as helped avert the financial crisis of Morris Brown College. In addition, James acted as Chairman of the National Bankers Association in 1978 and 1990. From 1981 to 2002, James served on the board of the Georgia Telecommunication Authority; he also purchased and revived The Savannah Tribune (now known as The Tribune). In 1989, James became the owner and publisher of The Fort Valley Herald; both are publications dedicated to the African American community.

James was recognized for his work with various honors and awards, including being named one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine in 2003, and being awarded the Distinguished Service Award by the National Bankers Association.

James and his wife, Shirley James, who is the editor of The Tribune, lived in Savannah, Georgia; they raised three children.

Accession Number

A2007.024

Sex

Male

Interview Date

1/22/2007

Last Name

James

Maker Category
Middle Name

E.

Occupation
Schools

L. J. Rowan High School

Grace Love Elementary School

Morris Brown College

Harvard Business School

First Name

Robert

Birth City, State, Country

Hattiesburg

HM ID

JAM03

Favorite Season

January

Sponsor

Robert James II

State

Mississippi

Favorite Quote

I'd Rather Be A Could-be If I Cannot Be An Are; Because A Could-be Is A Maybe Who Is Reaching For A Star. I'd Rather Be A Has-been Than A Might-Have-been, By Far; For A Might Have-been Has Never Been, But A Has Was Once An Are.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Georgia

Interview Description
Birth Date

11/21/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Savannah

Country

USA

Favorite Food

Okra

Short Description

Bank chief executive Robert James (1946 - ) served for over thirty years as the president and CEO of Carver State Bank.

Employment

Citizen and Southern National Bank

Carver State Bank

Armco Steel Corporation

Main Sponsor
Favorite Color

Blue

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370762">Tape: 1 Slating of Robert James' interview</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370763">Tape: 1 Robert James lists his favorites</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370764">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his maternal grandmother</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370765">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his mother's personality and community involvement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370766">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his father</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370767">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his mother's educational background</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370768">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his father and the parent he takes after most</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370769">Tape: 1 Robert James lists his siblings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370770">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his childhood homes</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370771">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his earliest childhood memory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370772">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his childhood neighborhood</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370773">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his experiences at Grace Love Elementary School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370774">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his childhood extracurricular activities</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370775">Tape: 1 Robert James describes his mother's cooking for holiday celebrations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370776">Tape: 2 Robert James recalls his involvement in the African Methodist Episcopal church</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370777">Tape: 2 Robert James remembers learning to play the saxophone</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370778">Tape: 2 Robert James recalls listening to baseball games on the radio</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370779">Tape: 2 Robert James recalls playing in the high school band</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370780">Tape: 2 Robert James remembers his involvement in national student council meetings</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370781">Tape: 2 Robert James describes his organizational activities in high school</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370782">Tape: 2 Robert James describes his teachers at L.J. Rowan High School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370783">Tape: 2 Robert James remembers his high school friends</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370784">Tape: 2 Robert James describes his high school jobs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370785">Tape: 2 Robert James recalls his decision to attend Morris Brown College</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370786">Tape: 2 Robert James recalls his family's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370787">Tape: 2 Robert James describes his reaction to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370788">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls his family's involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370789">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls cross burnings and the bombing of Vernon Dahmer's home</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370790">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls attending Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370791">Tape: 3 Robert James explains why he attended a historically black college</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370792">Tape: 3 Robert James describes his experiences at Morris Brown College</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370793">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls avoiding the Vietnam War draft</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370794">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls his brothers' U.S. military service</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370795">Tape: 3 Robert James remembers his friend, Paul C. Bland</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370796">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls his accounting training at Armco Steel Corporation</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370797">Tape: 3 Robert James remembers meeting his wife, Shirley James</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370798">Tape: 3 Robert James recalls his experiences at Harvard Business School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370799">Tape: 4 Robert James remembers his classmates at the Harvard Business School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370800">Tape: 4 Robert James reflects upon the importance of community involvement</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370801">Tape: 4 Robert James recalls recruiting black students to the Harvard Business School</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370802">Tape: 4 Robert James recalls his internship at The Citizens and Southern National Bank of Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370803">Tape: 4 Robert James remembers moving to Boston, Massachusetts</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370804">Tape: 4 Robert James recalls attending Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s funeral</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370805">Tape: 4 Robert James remembers the birth of his son</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370806">Tape: 4 Robert James describes his family's legacy at Harvard University</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370807">Tape: 4 Robert James recalls the political involvement of The Citizens and Southern National Bank of Georgia</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370808">Tape: 4 Robert James recalls becoming the president of Carver State Bank</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370809">Tape: 5 Robert James describes his involvement in fraternities, pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370810">Tape: 5 Robert James describes his involvement in fraternities, pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370811">Tape: 5 Robert James recounts the history of Savannah's Carver State Bank</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370812">Tape: 5 Robert James talks about Carver State Bank's financial growth</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370813">Tape: 5 Robert James talks about the importance of African American owned businesses</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370814">Tape: 5 Robert James talks about the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370815">Tape: 5 Robert James talks about government minority finance programs</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370816">Tape: 6 Robert James describes his book, 'The Mississippi Black Bankers and Their Institutions,' pt. 1</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370817">Tape: 6 Robert James describes his book, 'The Mississippi Black Bankers and Their Institutions,' pt. 2</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370818">Tape: 6 Robert James talks about his son, Robert E. James, II</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370819">Tape: 6 Robert James describes his older daughter, Anne James Gennaio</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370820">Tape: 6 Robert James describes his younger daughter, Rachelle James Gregory</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370821">Tape: 6 Robert James talks about his honorary degrees</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370822">Tape: 6 Robert James describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370823">Tape: 6 Robert James shares his message to future generations</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370824">Tape: 6 Robert James describes how he would like to be remembered</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370825">Tape: 6 Robert James reflects upon his life</a>

<a href="https://da.thehistorymakers.org/story/370826">Tape: 7 Robert James narrates his photographs</a>

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

2$10

DATitle
Robert James remembers learning to play the saxophone
Robert James recalls becoming the president of Carver State Bank
Transcript
What about music in the home?$$Oh, we were, we loved music. My mother [Annie Gee James] loved music and so did my father [Jim James], in his own quiet way, but he, my mother made it possible for all of us to learn to play a musical instrument. We were poor. She could only afford one instrument and, well, originally she could only afford one. She bought a saxophone and so all of the boys, starting with my oldest brother [Jimmie James, Jr.], who is a musician, who was actually a trained musician, learned how to play saxophone, so one of the highlights of my mother's life was at a church program and four of us, who could play the various saxophones, played 'How Great Thou Art,' on saxophone for my mother, and that was, you know, I learned how to play and my mother bought an alto saxophone. I understand that my brother has actually got that saxophone and has had it refurbished, my oldest brother, who was at Jackson State [Jackson State College; Jackson State University, Jackson, Mississippi], but they, and then when my sister [Elease James Lindsey] came along, she bought a clarinet, so we had two musical instruments that the family owned and my sister learned how to play the clarinet. Well, if you have five boys and one girl and all of 'em playing saxophone, the only one, my youngest brother, Bobby Ray [Bobby Ray James], probably never learned how to play a musical instrument but, you know, things change when the youngest child comes. But, we, we've had to learn how to play an instrument that the school would furnish, so after you learned how to play the saxophone, if you wanted to stay involved in the high school band, and stay involved in music, you had to learn how to something that they school would supply, so all of us were kind of large-sized. My oldest brother became a tuba player and so his major instrument throughout college and throughout all of his music education, is a tuba. He did his senior recital at Jackson State on the tuba, and so I learned, then Arthur [Arthur James] learned how to play the tuba, of course, and he played the tuba in the high school band. John [John L. James] went into, started playing high school football, so he never really continued his music, even though he learned how to play the saxophone because my mother insisted all of us learn how to play saxophone and, of course, I learned how to play the saxophone and when I got to high school [L.J. Rowan High School, Hattiesburg, Mississippi], I gave up the saxophone because I would have to give it up because my younger brother, Bobby Ray, would have had to take the saxophone, but he never really learned how to play it if I recall, but I played tuba in high school. I played the French horn, I played baritone, and then when I got to college, of course I played at Morris Brown [Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia] in the marching band. I played tuba for two years. So, everybody in the house, just about, knew how to play a musical instrument.$So, how do you become the president of Carver State Bank [Savannah, Georgia] in '71 [1971]?$$Well, in 1969 while I was working for C&S Bank [The Citizens and Southern National Bank of Georgia], I came, I was working on my graduate research report for the Harvard Business School [Boston, Massachusetts]. This was the summer of '69 [1969], and I was gonna go back to finish my final year at Harvard Business School. I was doing my research report on the C&S community development corporation, which had started here in Savannah [Georgia], and so in order to do that research, I had to travel to Savannah, and so I came to Savannah to talk to the people at the local office of C&S Bank. During that time, I met a young lady named Betty Ellington [Betty W. Ellington], who was the wife of Coach Russell Ellington, who was a noted basketball coach around here, and also a Morris Brown [Morris Brown College, Atlanta, Georgia] graduate and so is Betty. She was an administrative assistant to the head of the community development corporation of C&S Bank. Well, she told me, she asked me if I had met the people at the black bank in Savannah, and I had not, I don't think I even knew that there was a black-owned bank in Savannah, but she took me to meet the president of this bank, and during the course of that conversation I was so intrigued by the, what looked like an opportunity (laughter) and so I met him and then I, so I talked to him later after that meeting and told him if he would offer me a job when I finished my master's degree from Harvard, I'd take the job, you know, and I wouldn't argue about salary or anything, because those were simpler times when we had no bills (laughter) because the only bill I would have had would have been a student loan or something, so I actually told him I would take a job because I never heard from him. But, I continued to research, to do research on the bank. While I was in Boston [Massachusetts], I would pull the legal reports on the bank and look at it and so forth. So, I kept in touch with people and then when I came back to work, after I finished my master's I came back to work in Atlanta [Georgia] at C&S Bank, I, C&S Bank was what was called the major correspondent bank of Carver State Bank in Savannah, which means that at C&S Bank, we had a file on Carver State Bank, which means I could go to central files and just pull the file and read what was going on and see the legal reports of the bank and so forth, and could understand the relationship between the two banks, and so I actually was aware of this bank and when I found out that their Mr. Perry [Lawrence D. Perry], who was the president, had announced his retirement and that this bank would be looking for a president, I started getting interested in the job. So, I started, I contacted them immediately, I contacted the people at C&S and so, so I became interested in becoming the president and so they had an interview process. I think Mr. J.B. Clemmons [HistoryMaker John B. Clemmons, Sr.] would have been the chairman of the committee and he, so I came down and had my interview, and I think there were two other people that they were considering who, neither of them had any real banking experience, but they were local leaders here in the community, and so I was able to get that job and so I came here as president of the bank. One of the things I asked as a condition of my accepting the job was that immediate upon my acceptance of the job that they announce that I'm the president. And, that's just my Harvard education, that somebody might change their mind (laughter) after, you know, they have a quiet conversation with me, the president might decide he's not gonna retire. And so, in June or July of 1971, there was an announcement that I would be president of Carver State Bank, so I came to work at Carver in July. I actually became president December 1, and so Mr. Perry, who was the president, stayed in the bank for a few months while I was there, and that gave me a chance to assess the staff and to make my decisions as to what I wanted to do when I took over, and so I took over on December 1. One of the first things I did--