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100 years strong: the legacy of Wisconsin’s first Black-owned bank, Columbia Savings & Loan

todayFebruary 6, 2024

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100 years strong: the legacy of Wisconsin's first Black bank, Columbia Savings & Loan
100 years strong: the legacy of Wisconsin’s first Black bank, Columbia Savings & Loan

In the heart of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a story of resilience, empowerment, and visionary leadership unfolds, marked by the indelible legacy of Columbia Savings and Loan Association—the state’s first Black-owned bank in Wisconsin.

Founded in 1924 by Ardie and Wilbur Halyard, this pioneering entity embarked on a mission to dismantle financial barriers and foster economic stability for African Americans, a demographic historically sidelined by mainstream banking. Beyond its financial endeavors, the Halyards’ influence extended into urban development, pivotal in transforming Halyard Park into a beacon of community ownership and stability. As we delve into Black History Month and the centennial celebration of Columbia Savings and Loan, we explore not only the institution’s monumental contributions to Milwaukee’s Black communities but also its enduring impact on the urban landscape, epitomized by the thriving neighborhood of Halyard Park.

Wilbur Halyard and Ardie Clark Halyard

Founding Vision and Mission

Ardie Clark Halyard and Wilbur Halyard, armed with college degrees from southern universities, relocated to Milwaukee in 1923. They quickly identified the financial disparities the city’s African American population faced and founded Columbia Savings and Loan Association the following year. Their mission was clear: to dismantle the barriers to financial services and homeownership faced by African Americans, thereby fostering financial stability and improved living conditions within the community.

Overcoming Early Challenges

The journey was not without its hurdles. The Halyards confronted discriminatory practices head-on, battling redlining and segregationist policies that sought to confine Black families to designated neighborhoods. Despite these adversities, their integrity and transparent business dealings quickly earned Columbia Savings and Loan a reputable standing, particularly within the Walnut Street communities, facilitating a growing client base against the odds.

A Beacon of Progress

Throughout its storied history, Columbia Savings and Loan has been pivotal in the economic and social upliftment of Milwaukee’s inner city. It championed the cause of minority apprenticeships in banking and business. It played a key role in the area’s development, including the construction of the first five homes in what is believed to be the Haylard Park neighborhood.

Spearheaded by Beechie O. Brooks and United Realty Group, Inc., the Halyard Park subdivision project commenced on November 5, 1976, signifying a major urban renewal effort. Halyard Park was conceived to blend suburban tranquility with urban convenience, attracting residents with its unique vision and stable environment. This strategy ensured a remarkably low turnover rate, with homes appreciating while other Milwaukee neighborhoods faced a decline. The area’s development reflects the broader socio-economic challenges and achievements of Milwaukee, from confronting redlining and freeway construction to fostering a cohesive community.

A Century of Impact

2024 marked a significant milestone for Columbia Savings and Loan Association, celebrating its 100th anniversary as Wisconsin’s first Black-owned bank. This centennial is not just a testament to the institution’s longevity but to its profound impact on Milwaukee’s Black communities and the broader banking industry. Under the leadership of Ernest Jones and Will Martin, the institution remains dedicated to its founding mission, continuing to serve the low- and moderate-income families of Milwaukee County (Black Enterprise; The Madison Times).

Commemorating the Milestone

The 100th anniversary was highlighted by significant gestures of support, including a $100,000 deposit by the MKE RNC 2024 Host Committee, part of a broader initiative to raise $10 million to assist 100 families. This act underscores the ongoing commitment of Columbia Savings and Loan and its partners to community empowerment.


Columbia Savings and Loan Association, through its century-long journey, has not only transformed the financial landscape for African Americans in Milwaukee but has also played a crucial role in urban development, particularly in Halyard Park. This story of perseverance, community advocacy, and economic empowerment continues to inspire, serving as a beacon of hope and progress in Milwaukee and beyond.


Written by: Tarik Moody

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