Richard R. Wright probably never leaned on anyone or anything else in his entire life. His cane, with a gold band engraved with his name, became a common sight in his later years.
Wright was born into slavery in 1853 (or possibly 1855). After the Civil War, he and his mother walked nearly 100 miles to enroll him into school — a school held in an abandoned train car. Wright never took the opportunity to learn for granted and spent the next four decades devoted to education for African-Americans.
He served as the first president of Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youths — now
Savannah State University — from 1891-1921. Well into his 60s, he left Georgia and joined his son in Philadelphia where he founded a bank.
After he graduated from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Wright opened the Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust Company on the northeast corner of 19th and South streets. At the time, it was one of the only African-American owned bank in the North. The bank survived the Great Depression and had assets of more than $5 million when it was sold after Wright’s death.
Wright was not idle in his retirement. In addition to acting as president of the bank, he also founded and ran the Haitian Coffee and Products Trading Company. He registered its copyright with the Library of Congress in 1935, encouraging shoppers to try “something new in coffee” and to “try genuine, unadulterated Haitian coffee.”
Wright’s cane, never a crutch, remained at his side until his death in 1947.
This story first appeared in Impressions, Fall 2015