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Walsh College Honors Banker Aubrey W. Lee

The metro Detroit nonprofit business college will give the banking pioneer an Honorary Doctor of Law degree at a commencement ceremony on June 21, 2014

On June 21, Walsh College will give African-American banking pioneer Aubrey W. Lee Sr., an Honorary Doctor of Law degree—an achievement he's wanted since 1956.

Back when Lee finished school at 21, he had a bachelor's degree from West Virginia State College, a master's degree from Marshall University and was an ROTC lieutenant and member of two honors organizations. "And I could not get a job!" says Lee, 79, still with an outraged tone.

"That was a common situation then," he explains, in the pre-civil rights segregated South. "You had a number of Black college graduates who were glad to be working in the post office because they paid you a good salary and you had health benefits."

Lee, who studied to go to law school, became a banker.

"When I started (banking), they didn't have any Blacks at the National Bank of Detroit (NBD) that worked at the desk. So I had to come in as a regular teller." He adds: "You do things you have to do and that is the way it was."

As Lee rose through the ranks, he used his new authority to give loan opportunities to African-Americans—and hire more Black tellers.

"Along with that I was able to open doors for other African-Americans," he explains, and other banks followed NBD's lead.

"Eventually I became one of the first Black (banking) vice presidents in the country, the first in the city of Detroit." And then he became chairman and president of NBD Troy Bank (now merged with Chase Bank), "Which was unheard of at the time," Lee says. But as he looks back in history, he treasures most his role in changing it.

"Nobody does anything themselves. You have to have people around you to help. And I am really proud of that."

Visit the BLAC events calendar for more details on the commencement ceremony honoring Lee, which begins at 10:30 a.m. at Zion Christian Church in Troy.
 

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