Few people in the credit union movement have ever heard of Clarence Hall, Jr., Issaquena County and the credit union he founded 44 years ago.
Clarence Hall, Jr. (born 1924) was born raised and continues to live in Issaquena County in the Mississippi Delta. His ancestors were slaves and his parents grew up on a plantation. His mother passed away when he was only 11 years old.
Working in the fields most days, Clarence was unable to attend school very often. However, he brought his books home and read them at night by the light of a kerosene lamp. This inspired his travel to Washington, D..later in life to seek funding for an early childhood development program, known today as Head Start.
After hearing Clarence’s presentation, Senator Bobby Kennedy replied: “I have sympathy for the cause Mr. Hall, but YOU understand and know. I have never suffered for anything a day in my life.”
Despite his limited formal education, Clarence served on the Board of the Delta Area School District and currently serves as President of Western Line School Board. He strongly encouraged and promoted education in the county for all children. His daughter has four degrees and is the assistant principal at an elementary school in the Laurel Mississippi School District.
Clarence volunteered for service in the US Army where he served for 5 years during WWII. For three of those years, he served in the European Theater. After returning home, he spent four years in Agriculture School at Delta College. He eventually acquired 66 acres of land that he farmed for a living.
In 1957, Clarence was the first person in Issaquena County to pay the poll tax to be eligible to vote. He appeared before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Department of Justice to discuss abolishing the poll tax and literacy test as conditions to vote. During that time, only 5 out of 1,081 blacks were registered to vote. However, 100% of white residents in Issaquena County were registered.
As an Issaquena County native, Clarence made some of the first inquiries into an NAACP lawsuit against the Issaquena County Board of Education for the suspension of students wearing pro‐SNCC materials in 1965. Following the ruling in Blackwell v. Issaquena that black students in Issaquena and Sharkey Counties could not be prohibited from attending white schools, Clarence became a leader in registering black students for historically white public schools.
He was fired from his job at Atkin Saw Mill when he went to Washington to seek a grant for the Child Development Group of MS, the forerunner of the Headstart program. He serves on the Board of Directors. He fought to have the county and Congressional districts redrawn to allow blacks to be elected to public office, including the Issaquena County Board of Supervisors.
Clarence was also active in a number of local chapters of important rights organizations. He worked as Project Manager for the Delta Ministry, part of the National Council of the Church of Christ. He was particularly vital as an administrative assistant to the Freedom City project beginning in 1966, an affordable housing initiative that eventually failed.
Hall served as a key mover in implementing the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). For 15 years, he was an Outreach Worker and Job Placement Specialist for the Mississippi Delta Council for Farm Workers. Clarence was forced to sue the State of Mississippi for denying blacks the right to obtain charters and set‐up non‐profit organizations.
In 1969, at the age of 45 – Clarence Chartered the Issaquena County FCU. Sitting along the Mississippi River just north of Vicksburg, Issaquena is the smallest county in the state. After the end of the Civil War, Issaquena County had the highest concentration of slaves in the nation. The county had approximately 12,000 residents, 95% of which were slaves. The other 5% were slave owners and their families.
The county population has decreased dramatically and steadily over the years. Since the chartering of the credit union in 1969, the population, which is the credit union’s field of membership, has decreased by 49%. Since 2000, the population decreased 39%. Today, there are fewer than 1,400 residents living in slightly more than 500 housing units.
Depending on the definition of poor, Issaquena is the 2nd poorest county in the nation. Over 45% of the county’s residents are living below poverty level. Per capita income is $10,581. Issaquena County FCU is the only financial institution for low income residents of the county.
There are no pawn shops, payday lenders, or finance companies. There is a bank branch where the credit union deposits money and members may cash their checks. Members obtaining loans at the credit union generally do not qualify for loans from the bank branch.
Because he knows and understands the people, for 44 Years, Clarence has served not only as Chairman of the Board, but also as President/CEO of the credit union. The NCUA has permitted Clarence to serve in both roles. The credit union simply would not be there without his leadership, commitment and vision.
For the first 36 years, Clarence did not receive a single dime for his service. During 44 years of making loans, the credit union has charged off less than $4,000 and never had as much as a penny come up missing. Issaquena County FCU – Last CU in MS to go on a computer system
In 2009, Clarence’s wife of 58 years passed away. His son, Clarence III, was being groomed to take over the credit union and he eventually talked his dad into going off the manual system. Unfortunately, the younger Clarence passed away in October, 2009 prior to the credit union conversion at year end. With the League’s assistance, the credit union still converted to a data processing system at the end of the year.
Then in early in 2010, Ora Lee Williams, the credit union’s bookkeeper for over 30 years also passed away. This would have been the end of most small credit unions, but Mr. Hall kept the credit union alive.
At the age of 89, Clarence still performs his roles as Chairman and CEO of the Issaque-na County FCU. The international proverb of the C.U.D.E program is exactly what Clarence has sought to achiever in Issaquena County. “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.“
The success of the Issaquena County FCU comes from Clarence Hall’s knowledge of those he serves, and his philosophy: “Helping People Help Themselves.”
Throughout his life, Clarence Hall has been a dedicated servant to his God, his Country, his Church, his Family and fellow Mankind. He knows and understands suffering. In a variety of ways, he has dedicated his life to providing people an opportunity to improve their own well‐being!