Co Federal Credit Union Closes

Oct 13, 2021

By Barney Blakeney
Since 1966 Charleston’s C O Federal Credit Union sought to meet the financial needs of folks in the local region. September 17 it closed permanently.
In January the National Credit Union Administration placed the credit union into conservatorship. Member deposits at C O Federal Credit Union remained protected by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund. The NCUA insured individual accounts up to $250,000 and a member’s interest in all joint accounts combined up to $250,000.
The NCUA placed C O Federal Credit Union into conservatorship because of unsafe and unsound practices at the credit union. Account holders September 17 received checks for the full amount of their deposits.
Osei Chandler, host and producer of Roots Musik Karamu radio program on National Public Radio, one of the longest running public radio programs in the country, has been a COFCU member for decades. Upon receiving his deposit check he said, “It’s the first time I got an unexpected check in the mail that I didn’t want. It was a big disappointment.”
In explanation Chandler offered, “It was like another death in the family. The credit union didn’t offer ATM service or direct deposit, but it was a Black bank. C’mon, y’all,” he exclaimed. “”I told my kids about it and opened an account for my granddaughter. I even told my mother about it,” said the native New Yorker who transplante to Charleston some 40 years ago.
“We’re just losing stuff,” Chandler lamented over the credit union’s demise as more resources within the Black community fall victim to a lack of support from within. Advocating for the credit union was like “Swimming against the tide,” Chandler equated, “but we gotta do it.”
However, the Black comunity never fully embraced the credit union. In 2018 President and CEO Perrin Middleton who joined the credit union earlier that year said the credit union had partnered with Ebenezer AME Church. Ebenezer in downtown Charleston long has been among the more progressive and economically proactive church congregations locally. In addition to Ebenezer, C.O. Federal Credit Union has been fully engaged in financial collaborations with Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, Middleton said, but discussions with others soon would begin.
For a variety of reasons – ranging from “I didn’t know it existed” to “Only a fool would put their money in an institution that didn’t have sound financial practices” – the credit union never received financial support from the Black community that it gave other financial institutions.
COFCU was founded by Esau Jenkins (July 3, 1910 – October 30, 1972) and a small group of visionaries in 1966. It was founded to provide low-income residents of Johns Island and the Charleston community with broader access to financial products and services denied to them by larger financial institutions.
Since then the COFCU membership grew to include the entire Charleston region. It was one of only two designated low-income credit unions in South Carolina. This designation is designed to help the credit union serve members recognized as having challenges to accessing mainstream financial products and services– which was Jenkins’ goal.
Since its inception the credit union made over $10,000,000.00 available to its members in the form of loans for home repairs, automobile purchases, and members’ personal use and projects.