John B. Clemmons was elected a Director of Carver State Bank in 1960, and actively served for 52 years. He was Chairman of the Board of Directors from 1990 until he retired due to his declining health in April 2012.
It was my pleasure to work with Mr. Clemmons for about 41 years. We were tied together in several ways. First, we had the relationship at Carver State Bank, but probably just as important to Mr. Clemmons is the fact that for many of our 41 years we were both trustees of St. Philip AME Church. We were also brothers in Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity (The Boule) for about 35 years, and we both married graduates of Spelman College.
There are approximately 8,000 commercial banks in the United States and African-Americans own only 28 of them. Carver State Bank is the fourth oldest of these institutions. Additionally, we are by far the oldest bank headquartered in the Savannah area without regard to the race of its owners. This year, Carver is celebrating its 85th Anniversary. Mr. Clemmons was extremely proud of Carver’s history and the bank’s unique role in Savannah and the nation. He never hesitated to use his resources to protect and promote Carver State Bank. When I was elected President of Carver in 1971, Mr. Clemmons was the Carver Director who was selected to introduce me to business leaders in the Savannah community. It was fun traveling around Savannah in his car and meeting the presidents of the other banks and the heads of other prominent businesses. I was 24 years old, and he was about 60. The one thing that I remember about those days is that Mr. Clemmons could not drive. On each outing, I would be praying that we would make it back safely, so for the next forty years, when we were going somewhere together, I always drove the car.
John B. Clemmons, Sr. lived over 100 years. When he was born on April 11, 1912, William Howard Taft was President of the United States. Mr. Clemmons saw 19 U. S. Presidents, and lived to vote and witness the election and administration of our country’s first African American President, President Barack Obama.
During the year that Mr. Clemmons was born, New Mexico and Arizona became the 47th and 48th states in the Union. The states of Alaska and Hawaii were not added until much later. The Titanic had just left on its maiden voyage and sank on April 15, 1912, four days after Mr. Clemmons was born.
Mr. Clemmons saw and survived several wars, international conflicts and disasters. He lived through the Great Depression and much more. He saw the worst that mankind is capable of: the violent night riders of the Klu Klux Klan, Hitler’s rise to power, the Holocaust, and the murders of more than 3,000 people on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. Mr. Clemmons also saw some of the best of humankind: Gandhi’s nonviolent movement, the revolutionary work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and Nelson Mandela’s successful struggle against apartheid.
Mr. Clemmons witnessed the invention of the electronic computer, television, internet, CDs, DVDs, cell phones, and we could go on and on. Many things changed during his life, but he held true to his core values. Values that should not change with time, but should be held in close regard for all times. Things like compassion, brotherhood, honesty, respect for authority and fair play. He believed in maintaining high standards where truth, accountability and ethical behavior can thrive.
Mr. Clemmons started his professional career as a high school teacher and he retired after a long career at Savannah State College (now University). He was a teacher at heart, and he never stopped teaching. He taught the entire Carver State Bank family many great lessons about the values of hard work, being on time and giving your best effort. He was orderly and organized. He liked to show me how he kept his business records organized in his home.
It is written in Luke 12:48 that “…for unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Mr. Clemmons understood this, and put it to work in his life. He spent a lifetime helping people. He took his personal money to help individuals and families through difficult times, and it would be impossible to count the many students at SSU that he helped by paying tuitions or buying books. He was especially proud of the many young men whom he helped become members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity by paying their induction fees.” He was a generous and kindhearted man.
J. B. Clemmons was a LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. Early in his life, he started out on a path of service and he stayed in the race…no matter what the obstacles, no matter what challenges and roadblocks he faced, he kept the faith.
These are times when everybody wants everything in a hurry. This is the “right now” generation, where everybody wants immediate gratification. However, Mr. John B. Clemmons was a patient and steadfast LONG DISTANCE RUNNER.
We thank God for allowing us to know John Benjamin Clemmons, Sr., and for allowing him to be part of our lives, and a part of Carver State Bank. He will certainly be missed.