How Alvin Boutte Founded America’s Largest Black-Owned Bank And Helped MLK, Mandela

Photo: Chicago Defender
Photo: Chicago Defender


Alvin J. Boutte Sr. founded one of the largest Black-owned banks in the United States. He was the co-founder and CEO of Independence Bank before his death.

During his college days, he discovered a talent for entrepreneurship when he established a business to serve the needs of his classmates and other students. He called his company laundry pick and pay, and his friends brought their clothes to be washed for a fee.

With an initial investment of $800,000, he founded the Independence Bank of Chicago in 1964 with George Johnson, Marshall Bynum, Sr., Henry Forte, Edward Boschell, Henry Hervey, John Skunstadter, Morris Polk, and William Scanlon. Boutte established the bank to meet the needs of the Chatham Avalon community and to ensure that their customers’ dreams were realized. His bank was once the largest black-owned bank in the United States.

Boutte was inspired to start his own business by his classmates. He was born on October 10, 1929, in Lake Charles, and attended Sacred Heart Grammar and High School. According to the Chicago Defender, that is where all of his siblings attended school following the Great Depression.

On a basketball scholarship, he continued his education with the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament at Xavier University in New Orleans, Los Angeles. While at university, he met his future wife, Barbara Gonzaque. She was a music student.

Alvin studied pharmacy, but his true passion was entrepreneurship and working for himself. He was not alone in this game. Others who shared his vision during his university years included John Stroger, Wilford Bonner, Ernest Morial, Richard Gumble, and Talifero Johnson.

He put his entrepreneurial ambitions on hold to serve in the United States Army, where he graduated from the Officer’s Candidate School. He was a Captain in Germany. After his service, Boutte was honorably discharged and moved to Chicago with his family.

When he moved to Chicago, he rekindled his entrepreneurial spirit. He bought the Lakeside Drug Store with money borrowed from the Sealtest Dairy Corporation. He quickly grew the single store into a chain with locations at 47th and Lake Park Avenue, Madison and Western, 79th and Cottage Grove, and 79th and Michigan Avenue. He enlisted the help of other young businesspeople such as George Johnson, John Johnson, Anderson Schweich, Marshall Bynum Sr., Neil Harris, and others.

Boutte was also a strong supporter of the civil rights movement at the time. He provided financial support to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He gathered African-American business leaders in Chicago and raised $55,000 for them.

In the summer of 1993, he was instrumental in bringing Nelson Mandela to Chicago to raise funds for his ANC political organization after he was released. When King and others were arrested, he paid their bail. He paid the medical bills of slain leaders’ widows and children.

He had four children and was survived by his wife, Barbara. He died in 2012.


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