Black History Month: Atlanta Fed Milestones

February 21, 2019

(Left to right) Raphael Bostic, James Brown, and Andre Anderson. Seated: Chapelle Davis. Photo by David Fine

(Left to right) Raphael Bostic, James Brown, and André Anderson. Seated: Chapelle Davis. Photo by Tommie Thomas

In Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta history, James Brown Sr. is a true pioneer. Decades before Raphael Bostic became the first black president of the Atlanta Fed two years ago, Brown served as the Bank's first African American officer.

Brown, who worked at the Bank from 1967 to 2004, was at an Atlanta Fed that looked much different than it does now. "Whether or not I succeeded in that position had a lot to do with whether doors would be opened to other African Americans who came after me," Brown said.

The U.S. observance of Black History Month in February is a fitting time to look at the Bank's progress in its officer ranks since Brown was named assistant vice president (AVP) in 1976:

  • Chapelle Davis was named the Bank's first black woman officer in 1991.
  • Last summer, André Anderson was appointed as first vice president and chief operating officer, the first African American to hold that office in the entire Federal Reserve System.
  • In 1997, Anderson was named the Atlanta Fed's first black branch manager, in Birmingham.

Andre Anderson cuts the ribbon on the Atlanta Fed's new Birmingham Branch building in 2000. To the left of Anderson is former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan.

André Anderson cuts the ribbon on the Atlanta Fed's new Birmingham Branch building in 2000. To the left of Anderson is former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan.

Brown started working at the Bank in housekeeping in 1967, but management soon asked him to apply for a position in data processing. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—some 50 years after the Atlanta Fed was founded—there was a desire to bring more widespread diversity to Bank departments. "The Bank was trying to get African Americans into positions other than housekeeping and mailroom areas," Brown said.

In data processing, Brown was promoted several times before being elevated to AVP in 1976. He eventually joined the Human Resources Department, where he recommended that senior management use a climate survey to improve staff morale, a practice that continues today. He served as the District Equal Employment Opportunity officer before retiring in 2004.

Since Brown, more minorities and women have become officers. Of the Bank's 99 officers at the end of last year, 21 identified as African American.

The number of minority and women officers is a credit to the Bank's past and present leadership, Anderson said. "During my career, we've always had one of the more diverse collections of officers in the Federal Reserve System," he added. "Our District has always been willing to put people in positions that challenge them based solely on their abilities."

Lessons learned

The four District pioneers all hail from modest backgrounds but worked hard, had people who encouraged them to step out of their comfort zone, and were willing to take on tough assignments.

"You can't expect someone to promote you to a higher level if you are not doing your job very well," said Davis, the Bank's vice president and chief diversity officer, who leads the District's Office of Minority and Women Inclusion. "With every promotion comes additional responsibility."

The Bank's first African American officers also cited strong, diverse support throughout their careers. Anderson, Brown, and Davis said white officers mentored them, gave them opportunities to stretch their skills and grow, and shared advice on unwritten workplace rules. Bostic noted that teachers who helped him included psychologist Richard Herrnstein, coauthor of The Bell Curve, and Wharton School professor Susan Wachter.

"Other people contributed to my development, and they practiced D&I [diversity and inclusion] before it was popular," Anderson said. "They pushed me to do things I thought I couldn't do."

Brown said he was prepared to go above and beyond on the job to counteract any doubts that people—whether black or white—might have had about him. "I knew there were a lot of eyes on me," Brown said.

Valuing diversity

Today, diversity is embedded in the Bank's DNA, and it encompasses much more than skin color or gender. "I try to make the case that diversity is the right thing to do but also the better thing to do," Bostic said.

In fact, the theme of the Bank's internal D&I staff report this year is "Diversity includes everyone. Diversity excludes no one," a message intended to drive home that all staffers contribute and have a role to play to ensure that people feel welcome and included in the workplace.

The Bank has a diversity advisory council and a number of employee resource groups that promote various aspects of diversity and inclusion, including ¡HOLA!, which raises awareness of Latino/Hispanic culture; the IDEA Network, which gives staff an outlet to explore topics related to technology, innovation, and creativity; and EAGLE, an alliance that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees.

"The more different perspectives you bring to the table, the better the potential for good outcomes," said Davis.

"Societal benefits are really a blend of ideas and creativity from the entire mosaic of humanity," Bostic added. "That awareness should make it easier for us to work together, to  listen to other ideas, and to be a more effective organization."

photo of Karen Jacobs
Karen Jacobs

Staff writer for Economy Matters

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