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Ministers plan protest of bank’s effort to foreclose on historic Roxbury church

A group of black ministers, led by Rev. Eugene Rivers, is planning a protest Sunday evening at the Charles Street African Methodist Episcopal Church in Roxbury over OneUnited Bank’s effort to foreclose on the historic church and auction off its property.

Rivers and ministers from the Boston TenPoint Coalition said they would call for a national boycott of minority-owned OneUnited Bank if it does not back away from its threat to auction off Charles Street AME.

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“We’re calling on black clergy across the United States to look into the practices of this bank and to stand in solidarity with Charles Street AME, who are in this case a victim of predatory lending by an anti-black bank,” Rivers said in an interview.

The bank, which received a $12 million federal bailout from the government in 2008, had no immediate comment on the protest plans. OneUnited has been struggling since the financial crisis and has not yet been able to repay the funds, nor has it paid interest or dividends, to taxpayers.

OneUnited sued Charles Street AME for repayment of a $3.7 million construction loan on a community center in 2010. Last month, the bank filed foreclosure and auction papers on the church building itself, because it wants to collect on a separate $1.1 million loan on which the church is collateral. Church officials and their lawyers say that Charles Street wanted to refinance these loans but that the bank, facing its own financial troubles, has been unwilling to negotiate.

Rev. Gregory G. Groover, the head of the church and chairman of the Boston School Committee, said the church continued to pay interest on the Charles Street loan but the bank sent it back in December. Ross Martin, a lawyer at Ropes & Gray who is representing the church pro bono, said he has been in touch with the bank’s lawyers but there has been no interest in sitting down to talk.

“We’ve been in contact with them on the pure litigation, but not on any substantive attempt to resolve it. They’ve said they’re not interested in having a discussion,’’ Martin said.

The protest is planned for 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Roxbury church. Charles Street AME, with 1,000 members, was founded in 1818 and was an important center for abolitionists in Boston and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Beth Healy can be reached at
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