Lending Power

How Self-Help Credit Union Turned Small-Time Loans into Big-Time Change

Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 18 illustrations Published: October 2017

Author: Howard E. Covington Jr.

Contributor: Darren Walker

Activism, General Interest > NC and Regional U.S., History > U.S. History

Established by Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright in North Carolina in 1980, the nonprofit Center for Community Self-Help has grown from an innovative financial institution dedicated to civil rights into the nation's largest home lender to low- and moderate-income borrowers. Self-Help's first capital campaign—a bake sale that raised a meager seventy-seven dollars for a credit union—may not have done much to fulfill the organization's early goals of promoting worker-owned businesses, but it was a crucial first step toward wielding inclusive lending as a weapon for economic justice.
In Lending Power journalist and historian Howard E. Covington Jr. narrates the compelling story of Self-Help's founders and coworkers as they built a progressive and community-oriented financial institution. First established to assist workers displaced by closed furniture and textile mills, Self-Help created a credit union that expanded into providing home loans for those on the margins of the financial market, especially people of color and single mothers.
Using its own lending record, Self-Help convinced commercial banks to follow suit, extending its influence well beyond North Carolina. In 1999 its efforts led to the first state law against predatory lending. A decade later, as the Great Recession ravaged the nation's economy, its legislative victories helped influence the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the formation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Self-Help also created a federally chartered credit union to expand to California and later to Illinois and Florida, where it assisted ailing community-based credit unions and financial institutions. 
Throughout its history, Self-Help has never wavered from its mission to use Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of justice to extend economic opportunity to the nation's unbanked and underserved citizens. With nearly two billion dollars in assets, Self-Help also shows that such a model for nonprofits can be financially successful while serving the greater good. At a time when calls for economic justice are growing ever louder, Lending Power shows how hard-working and dedicated people can help improve their communities.


"Lending Power is Howard Covington’s uplifting and compelling account of a credit union that champions the underserved.... This is a positive, inspiring look at a socially conscious, soundly managed mission-driven organization." — Barry Silverstein, Foreword Reviews

"The book offers important perspectives on the Great Recession mortgage crisis.... Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."
  — E. C. Erickson, Choice

"The story not just of the rise of a radical credit union but also of its role in the community that shaped it, which saw it work with churches, civil rights activists, maverick philanthropists and city planners to deliver change. . . . Lively and absorbing...." — Co-Op News

"Howard Covington Jr.'s work provides an interesting and engaging description of Self-Help Credit Union and the CRL. . . . Lending Power clearly provides an excellent example of social entrepreneurship that can provide valuable lessons for anyone working to accomplish a social objective." — Stephen G. Morrissette, Business History Review

"Covington’s account of an alternative model of banking, credit, and economic empowerment thus suggests both the historical and the political imperatives of excavating the voices who have long occupied the sidelines of debates about the organization of American capitalism. In this regard, Lending Power is an important intervention." — Alec Hickmott, Journal of Southern History

"This would be an important book at any time but it is especially that in a season when outrage blossoms on every corner. It is a great story about how that emotion—in the hands and hearts of good people—can do much good. It provides, in the account of Martin Eakes' work, an appealing example of genius successfully confronting inequity. If Martin had lived in the early days of Christianity, he would have been one of the Apostles, and at times he would have been impatient with Jesus, but the world would have become fairer more quickly." — Tom Lambeth, director emeritus of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation

"Martin Eakes may not look, talk, or act like any of the titans of the financial industry, but he commands respect and even fear from them. The organization he leads, Self-Help, went from making affordable loans out of a Volkswagen Beetle to running payday lenders out the state and predicting the housing crisis years ahead of time. Howard E. Covington Jr.'s book should inspire anyone who wants to advance Dr. King's dream of economic equality for all Americans." — Wade Henderson, president and CEO, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

"The South's governance and history have long tilted against its working men and women, black and white. Martin Eakes of North Carolina has devoted a life of gritty determination to redressing the balance. As Howard E. Covington Jr. brings to meticulously researched life in Lending Power, Eakes has repeatedly countered past failures with new hope: Self-help housing that went national, alternatives to predatory lending, statehouse advocacy to answer big-money's insistent pressure. Read and be inspired." — Hodding Carter, former University Professor of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Howard E. Covington Jr. is a freelance historian and biographer and the author or coauthor of several books, including Terry Sanford: Politics, Progress, and Outrageous Ambitions, also published by Duke University Press; The Story of Nationsbank: Changing the Face of American Banking; Henry Frye: North Carolina's First African American Chief Justice; and Favored by Fortune: George W. Watts and the Hills of Durham. An award-winning newspaper reporter and editor, Covington received the Ragan Old North State Award for nonfiction in 2004.

Darren Walker is president of the Ford Foundation, former vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation, and served as the COO of the Abyssinian Development Corporation, where he oversaw a housing revitalization program in Harlem. Walker was named one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time magazine in 2016.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Darren Walker  vii
1. Self-Help Who?  1
2. A First Step  9
3. A Financial Institution  23
4. Turning Point  37
5. Innovation  49
6. An "Aha" Moment  63
7. "We Did Not Have to Be Geniuses"  71
8. Cy Pres  85
9. "Shit Disturbers"  97
10. A Box of Rattlesnakes  117
11. The Emperor's Naked  131
12. "We're Here Forever"  147
13. Self-Help Federal—A National Institution  159
14. The Mission  175
Final Notes  191
Notes  195
Index  205
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top