More than a century ago, our bank founders put forth our purpose as an organization: to create opportunities for people and the communities we serve. This month, America celebrates Black History Month and the men and women whose tenacity and sacrifices helped set the tone for a new time of equal opportunities for all citizens.
In his own quiet way, our first African American banker, Alfred McNorris “Mac” Demas, is one of those trailblazers, although he’ll humbly tell you he “just takes it in stride.”
Mac’s story with the bank starts in mid-1950s Gulfport, Mississippi. While the civil rights struggle intensified around America and the South, Mac and I were already faithful friends.
We met at the bank, where we both took jobs to help our widowed mothers make ends meet. Mac was working with his mother, Ruth, doing janitorial chores. I was a part-time mailroom runner making one dollar an hour. We bonded almost immediately over our shared love of music.
In our off time, we did what most teenage boys did—dated pretty girls, ate pizza and had each other’s backs. Our means were modest, but we both grew up in solid homes where we and our siblings learned strong values from resilient families with deep community roots.
By the early Sixties, after becoming a full time employee and having new responsibilities, I hired Mac as a purchasing department worker. I soon urged my buddy to apply for a better-paying teller position at a new local branch. That’s when Mac found his calling, quickly becoming one of the bank’s most popular tellers, a distinction he held for more than 40 years. In fact, many of the people he served—both black and white—wouldn’t do business with any banker but Mac.
Mac and I weren’t oblivious to the racial discord headlining the news. We both had simply long ago looked past skin color to find our good friend and trusted colleague. Our families had good times together, too.
Mac and I are retired now. When we get together, though, we’re like we’re back in high school. We rib each other with lighthearted jokes and exchange knowing winks about adventures we had a half-century ago. Our mutual caring and respect shine through, too—perhaps now more than ever.
Our friendship began when Eisenhower was in office, and we’re both proud to have helped build 6o years of bank history. I’m also honored that Mac, an unassuming hero who ushered in a new era of opportunity at the bank, has been an important part of my life since I was 16 years old.